My #FirstPictureBook

CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE

March 13, 2016

Tags: Deborah Sosin, Charlotte and the Quiet Place, Sara Woolley, first picture book, Parallax Press

Deborah Sosin is a writer, GrubStreet instructor, and clinical social worker specializing in mindfulness. Today, she shares how she crafted her debut picture book, CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE—a National Parenting Publication's 2015 Bronze Winner.

Q. Was your first published picture book CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE also the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote?
A. Yes! I’m still in shock about that fact.

Q. What event or person inspired CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE?
I grew up in Rye, New York, with two parents, one older brother named Donnie, and one white cat named Snezhy (“snowball” in Russian). There was often a TV, a radio or two, or a record player on (yes, I’m ancient!), sometimes all at once. On top of that, Donnie practiced piano every day. It was hard to find a quiet place. Even though I was an outspoken and extroverted child, I had a serious, reflective side too, and I cherished silence.
As an adult, I learned meditation and mindfulness and instantly loved the sense of calm and peace I experienced, which often carries into my busy days as a writer, editor, teacher, and therapist. So when I decided to write a children’s book, I wanted to show how it’s possible for children, even young children, to tune in to their breath and quiet their mind, even if the world around them is very noisy and busy.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It seemed to fit exactly from the get-go and I never considered a different title. Fortunately, the publisher liked it too.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. That’s a hard question, but I guess I’d say the line, “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’” The concept of a deeper level of silence that exists when we finally slow down and notice what’s happening in our mind and body was there right away but the exact wording and rhythm took a few tries.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Charlotte is my grandmother’s name on my father’s side. She died suddenly when I was eight and I wanted to honor her. If I’d had a daughter, I would’ve liked to name her Charlotte. Otto is named after Michael Otto, a Boston psychologist who taught me wonderful, practical skills as an adult for managing anxiety.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It just came out in the third person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began to write?
A. The basic structure and arc was clear before I actually wrote—a girl who likes quiet encounters noise at home, in school, and in her neighborhood. She has an “ack!” moment. Then something happens where she gets out of breath, notices her breathing, tunes in to that experience, and ultimately discovers a quiet place inside herself where she can always return. The language evolved from there—over many, many drafts.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE.
A. Shock and excitement! It was kind of surreal to be talking on the phone to Rachel Neumann, the publisher, and hear her say she thinks Charlotte could find a home at Parallax Press. That conversation took place about ten months after I wrote it and four months after I submitted it.

Q. What kind, if any, input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Rachel asked me to send the names of any illustrators whose work I thought would be a good fit. I did some research, especially in the SCBWI gallery, and sent her some suggestions. She and her team ultimately sent me sketches by the two finalists, whom I didn’t know, and asked my preference. It was clear that Sara Woolley, who got the job, completely understood the spirit of Charlotte right from the beginning. I finally met her for the first time at our New York City book launch at La Casa Azul Bookstore last September.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover for CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE?
A. I loved Sara’s vibrant color palette, her whimsical sense of humor, and her imaginative use of perspective. I could go on and on about Sara’s skills and talents!

Q. How long did CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE take to be published—from the time you got an offer until it was printed?
A. I got the offer in January 2014, signed a contract in March, and Sara was hired in July. The book went to the printer in March 2015 and released in August. I saw it in late April, however. Parallax had sent me a review copy by overnight express as soon as the book arrived from the printer. They knew my father was in the hospital with pneumonia and likely would not recover. It was bittersweet to be able to share the book with him before he died on May 6—he was a huge supporter of my writing and was so proud I’d published my first book. Although he couldn’t talk because he was on a ventilator, he indicated by spelling with his finger that he wanted me to show the book to all the doctors and nurses on the floor. It meant so much to him to hear their praise and comments.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable letters from kids about your book?
A. Danielle Mahoney and Stephanie Lupoli, who teach mindfulness to kids at P.S. 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, use Charlotte in their classrooms and presented me and Sara with these lovely booklets of drawings from the kids of their noisy and quiet places and how mindfulness helps them. One of my favorite quotes is from a fourth-grade girl: “My quiet place is in my heart. It is hard to concentrate in my apartment but in my room I lay down on my bed, close my eyes, and stay there a few minutes. . . . After my h.w. I go into my room and do some mindfulness. Especially when my brain hurts! I think about a special place and relax.”

Q. When you do readings, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have the kids repeat all the noisy sounds throughout, which is a lot of fun, but the best part is when we all say the “hooo ahhh” breathing sounds together and then there’s a silence. The quality of peace and calm in the room is profound, and it happens even with a large, squirmy group of kids.

Q. What is your best tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Go for it! Make the time. But ask for help. It’s too hard to do in isolation. Find some sensitive, knowledgeable readers who will give you honest (and sometimes hard-to-hear) feedback and critique. Then you can do the same for them. I’m a newcomer to the PB community, and they are the most thoughtful, supportive, and fun bunch of writers!

To learn more about Deborah's book and workshops, go to her website.