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

MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS

November 21, 2016

Tags: MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, Linda Vander Heyden, Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

It's been a long road to publication. But after running a business and raising a family, Linda Vander Hayden finally reached her destination—publishing her first picture book! Today she shares the story behind MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS—"an appealing and appropriate addition to the nature shelf in the preschool and early elementary grades" (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first picture book was a very long story about a crabby cat. I spent hours researching publishers who would love my story. I sent it out into the world and waited…and waited. Finally—a response! It was a form rejection (with many more to follow). Not one to give up easily, I revised my story, cutting the word count in half. Surely, now they would be interested. Alas, no. Though disappointed, I learned a lot from those rejections. It is all part of the journey.

Q. What inspired MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. For a long time, I’ve been concerned about what is happening to the monarchs. Once it was common to see many of these beautiful butterflies throughout summer and fall. Now, people report not seeing any or very few. Some of the challenges our monarch friends face are changing weather patterns, pesticides, herbicides, roadside mowing, and habitat destruction.

One day, while walking my dogs, I found the milkweed along the side of our quiet road had been mowed. Milkweed is vital to monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars were clinging to the drying plants. Seeing this was upsetting. The monarchs are in trouble, and I wanted to share their story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I loved the alliteration. And I love Irish names. My grandfather came to this country from Ireland when he was only 16. My sisters and I visited his childhood home a few years ago. It was an amazing experience!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I have several. One, in particular, is when Mr. McGinty and his dog, Sophie, are rescuing the caterpillars. People pass by and shake their heads wondering why he bothers. But Mr. McGinty isn’t worried about how he is seen by others. He only wants to help the monarchs.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Mr. McGinty seemed to be the perfect name for this kind-hearted, energetic man who cares so much about nature. And I chose the name Sophie for his dog, because I thought it sounded gentle. Sophie adores Mr. McGinty and is always ready to share in his adventures, including a monarch mission!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. It really wasn’t a conscious decision. The story just seemed to flow onto the page that way. I think using third person makes it more relatable to children. They can see themselves in the story and identify with Mr. McGinty’s love and concern for the monarchs.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. I knew about half the story when I began writing. Over the next couple years, with numerous revisions, the rest of the story took shape. I was also very fortunate to be part of the SCBWI mentorship program. I am so grateful to my mentor, who helped with final revisions.

Q. Did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It definitely did. I think most manuscripts receive rejections. Perhaps some stories are acquired right away, but they are probably few and far between. I received about seven rejections before learning that Sleeping Bear wanted to publish this story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS.
A. I’m taking a deep breath here. My mother had passed away the month before, and I was (and still am) feeling her loss deeply. My mother was always in my corner. She told me to never give up on my writing. We were at our daughter’s home the evening my agent called with the exciting news. It is hard to describe the combination of sorrow at losing my mother so recently and the elation I felt when I learned of the offer from Sleeping Bear. I wish she could have been here to share my happiness, but I believe she knows.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sleeping Bear chose Eileen Ryan Ewen to illustrate the book, and I am delighted with her vision of Mr. McGinty and Sophie! MR. MCGINTY’S MONARCHS was a debut book for both of us!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. It was thrilling to see this story come to life at last! I loved Eileen’s portrayal of Mr. McGinty. It was so different than how I pictured him. And so much better! I couldn’t believe it when I saw Sophie. She, too, looked very different than what I had pictured. What struck me immediately was that Sophie looked exactly like the dog my mother had when she was a little girl. Eileen had never seen a photo of my mother’s dog!

Q. How long did MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about a year and a half from the time I received the offer until the book was released.

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 honestly can’t think of anything I would change. The story teaches while it entertains, and Eileen’s illustrations are beautiful. I also think the author notes are fun and kid friendly. I love reading this story to students and seeing their enthusiasm as they listen and later share their own butterfly stories with me.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS?
A. Yes, one little girl told me, “I want to be a superhero butterfly when I grow up.”

Q. When you do readings of MR. MCGINTY'S MONARCHS, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children have lots of fun following Sophie throughout the story. They love her hairdo when she visits the classroom with Mr. McGinty! And I hear them “Oooh” and “Aaah” when they see Eileen’s full-page spread of the monarchs being released.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. The best advice I can offer would be to join SCBWI. This organization offers many opportunities to grow as a writer and/or illustrator. I would also say be patient. It can be a very long road to publication, but along the way, you’ll meet supportive, talented people who will often be willing to help you achieve your goals. And as my mother once told me, “Don’t give up.”

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I don’t really have a favorite writing exercise, but as I write, I try to use active verbs and make sure I’m showing (not telling) how my characters are feeling. I’ve also learned to remember to leave room for an illustrator to work his or her magic.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. For several years, I’ve been working on a manuscript about a red-tailed hawk that was injured in a landfill. When I heard about him from his rehabber, I knew I wanted to share his story. It’s taken a long time (and many different versions), but I think it’s finally coming together.

To learn more about Linda, visit her website

Comments

  1. November 28, 2016 4:14 PM EST
    Looking forward to reading this one!!
    - Maria Gianferrari