#FirstPictureBook

PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!

April 23, 2018

Tags: PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!, Cate Berry, Charles Santoso, Balzer + Bray, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Cate Berry is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences on such topics as "Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices" and "From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books." Inspired by a class assignment, Cate wrote her #firstpicturebook which will be published on May 8th. Today she talks to us about crafting PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!—a Junior Library Guild selection and “a definite do for bedtime” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was close to my first book. I took two picture book classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas (And I am lucky enough to teach there now). During my second class we were given the assignment of writing a bedtime book. I got a jump on the assignment and wrote this very quickly. It’s one of the few times something has come out “whole” and not needing a lot of revision (because that NEVER happens, as we know).

My very first picture book manuscript was called Puffin and Slip. It follows two creatures in a faraway galaxy. They are separated but stay connected through the moon and their special friendship. That manuscript is in a drawer right now but I think you’ve awoken my curiosity again! Thank you and I’ll keep you posted.

Q. What inspired PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!?
A. As I stated above it was a class assignment. But also, as I examine it closely years later, it was a love letter to my children. They are only thirteen months apart and when they were little acted as one unit. Plus, they hate bedtime. Can you tell?

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Oh, that’s a fun topic. The book was originally titled This is Not a Bedtime Book. In the end, we wanted something a little more original and full of the voice of the characters. I brainstormed a list and Penguin & Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime! was a favorite with the Harper Collins/Balzer+Bray team. I’m so glad we changed it. I really love the final title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I write by hand but I also write a lot on my iPhone notes app. I heard an interview with Annie Leibovitz talking about how the best camera to use was the one on you all the time. She champions iPhone photography and that got me thinking about using my Notes App for writing while I’m out in the world. There are so many opportunities to write: waiting for the dentist, right before your household wakes up, when insomnia hits in the dead of night. It’s freeing to just swipe over to an app and jot down inspiration when it hits.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is probably the double spread of the “turn” or climax of the book. Penguin & Tiny Shrimp’s anti-bedtime shenanigans have reached a fever pitch and Charles Santoso’s illustrations are just so joyous and fun. He really captures my heart in that spread because it epitomizes being a kid.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I’ve been asked this a lot and I wish there were a snappier answer. But the truth is they just came to me very suddenly while I was drafting. You have to pay attention to your story when things are flowing. Things were definitely in “flow” that day.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. A teacher of mine from grad school once said, “Every writer gets something for free.” My “freebie” is dialogue. It comes very organically for me. This entire book is told through dialogue and that is very much my voice as a writer.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! ? 
A. Well, my subconscious knew quite a bit since sleuth bedtime tactics had been my life for so long with small children. I think when I started the story I knew they would end up passing out at the end. I can’t believe in a story fully until I know the ending.

Q. Did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes. It was on submission for several months and we received around 8-10 rejections. But then, presto we got several offers all at once. The book ended up at auction with four publishing houses. It sounds cliché, but I guess the take-away is that you should never give up on something you believe in.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! 
A. My agent called me and I had to pull over because I was driving. I screamed, of course, and then cried. I was very, very happy. Getting a book published relies on a lot of things lining up perfectly. I feel grateful every day for this opportunity.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor was open to suggestions from me. I requested that she consider Charles Santoso among others. She was charmed by the idea of Charles illustrating the book and we were both thrilled when he agreed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Oh. They exceeded my expectations. Not only were they adorable but also they were also full of personality and verve. I don’t know how Charles did it. I have so much respect and admiration for illustrators in general. It was such a gift when the first sketches came in.

Q. How long did PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I believe we sold the book in the fall of 2016. It debuts May 8, 2018.

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. That’s a great question. There was not much editing on my end. However my editor did nudge me to perfect some of Tiny Shrimp’s lines, adding more specificity. I’m so glad she did as it goosed the humor, in my opinion, and made his character that much more fun.

Q. Have you read PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!  to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have read the book to lots of kids! I think the biggest laugh always happens when the Uni-Hippo makes a surprise entrance. I think my biggest thrill is seeing kids delight in two aquatic creatures bounding into zany adventures avoiding sleep. It’s every kid’s fantasy, or at least the kids I know. ☺

Q. Did you create any book swag for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME!? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! My sister is a wonderful designer and she and I have just ordered postcards for librarians, bookplates, stickers and buttons. I also made an invitation for the book launch on May 20th at the indie bookstore BookPeople in Austin, Texas. You’re all invited!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read, read, read and then read more picture books. Don’t underestimate how much you’re learning about the form while you read picture books, especially aloud.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I try to write something every day even when I have just a few minutes. One of my advisors in grad school taught me this. It can be as small as a picture book title idea or a stanza in a poem. But it does wonders for keeping your creative wheels greased.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m in the middle of revising four picture books and I’m on my third major revision of a middle grade novel. I’m also dabbling in non-fiction picture books. It scares me because the research is so interesting I’m afraid I’ll fall down the rabbit hole and never come out!

I’m also reminding myself every week to pay it forward and be generous about helping other writers as much as time will allow. That’s important to me: connection and community.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I love to hear from kids, readers, and writers! You can find me here:
www.cateberry.com
Twitter: @cberrywriter
Insta: @cateberryatx
Cate Berry Reads PENGUIN & TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME!: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7_kfuwBfvPc

DOLL-E 1.0

April 9, 2018

Tags: DOLL-E 1.0, #firstpicturebook, Shanda McCloskey, Little, Brown, May 2018

Shanda (rhymes with panda) McCloskey’s #firstpicturebook was inspired by watching her inventive daughters play with their toys and was later named by her husband. Now this family-made creation comes out May 1 and today she shares the nuts and bolts of DOLL-E 1.0—“an engaging story, arguing for the marriage of technology with creativity and play” (Kirkus Reviews ) and “an enjoyable romp for readers, whether they’re plugged in or not” (Booklist).

Q. Was DOLL-E 1.0  the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Hmm. I think this was probably the 3rd or 4th picture book I spent real time on. For a few of those, I was stuck on writing about how making art was similar to cooking with ingredients. The idea sounded fun, but it wasn’t when I actually wrote it. I still remember the looks on my writer friends’ faces when I finished reading my drafts aloud… poor guys, they had to tell me how bad it was without breaking my spirit. I guess, they succeeded, because I’m still here. :)
 
Q. What inspired DOLL-E 1.0?
A. One day, I was playing dolls and stuffed animals with my two-year-old daughter who naturally liked books and movies with robots in them. While we played, she said her doll was a robot. And that idea just flew all over me! I ran to write it down, and the next few weeks I researched robot picture books to see if this idea had been played out before. To my surprise, it hadn’t. And not only that, but ALL the robot-themed books I found in that time were made with boy readers in mind. A robot book with girl-appeal was missing!
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My husband, Ben, came up with this title. I loved it from the moment he said it, and I was lucky that my editor at Little Brown, Andrea Spooner, liked it too!
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both, actually.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. This is the original image from which the story of DOLL-E 1.0 was born. Waaaaay before I had a agent or an offer, I wanted to draw tools, intense creating, plans, and mechanical parts, so I did. And aside from a few detail additions, this original image appears in the book!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. As I drew her, I thought the girl looked like a “Charlotte” and after I had called her that for so long, it stuck! I think it’s a strong, classic, yet cool and revived, female name.
 
“Blutooth” was a fun discovery! But legally we couldn’t use the trademarked spelling: Bluetooth. So, we took out the E. We also toyed with the idea of calling him “Megabyte”, but Blutooth rolled off my tongue much easier when I read my story aloud - which I will probably be doing a lot. :)
 
“Doll-E” was the first character to be named. An electronic play-on name for a dolly!
 
Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I tried both ways, but third person with some dialogue seemed the best fit.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DOLL-E 1.0 ?
A. I thought I knew most of it, but as I mention in another answer below, just about ALL of it changed once I got better acquainted with my kid/kid-like characters.
 
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Characters seem to come first, then I try to find their story, then I toggle between art and story in the dummy process. I take away, add, or rework until it feels close to right. I think I made 7 different dummies for DOLL-E 1.0 before I settled where I did.
 
Q. Did DOLL-E 1.0  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Earlier versions of DOLL-E 1.0 got rejected 6 times, but some of these rejections had valuable feedback attached that resulted in good changes!
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DOLL-E 1.0 .
A. It was so flipping exciting! DOLL-E 1.0 went to auction with 4 offers! It was like the movies where I was always near my phone waiting on an update from my agent. I may never experience excitement like this over one of my books again, but I’ll surely NEVER forget it!
 
On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I’d won the lottery either. I felt like I had worked hard for this moment, and I still had a lot of work ahead of me once I accepted one of the offers.
 
Q. How long did DOLL-E 1.0  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year and a half. I received offers in January 2017 and DOLL-E 1.0 is set to be on shelves May 1st, 2018. It was put on a “rushed” schedule because of the popular girl/tech subject. We didn’t want to be late to the party, so to speak.
 
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. When I started writing DOLL-E 1.0 I had some beautiful themes/messages about what technology can’t replace that I was trying to write a story around. But, as I got to know my characters better as kids, I found that my “themes” were actually very grown-up thoughts. It was tough to let go of my lovely (but didactic) ideas and remember how my mind worked when I was a kid.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture books writers?
A. Just keep plugging along ... working, reading, learning new things, trying new things, meeting people … and you WILL eventually see fruits from your labor. :)
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Every year my critique group retreats to a cabin in Alabama for a writing weekend! We follow a schedule of working, eating, walking and critiquing each day. It has proven to be really productive AND fun!
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Currently, I’m working on a companion story to DOLL-E 1.0 where you’ll meet Charlotte’s neighborhood friends including Lucas and his drone named T-Bone!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
A.
Web: shandamc.com
Instagram: @shandamccloskeydraws
Twitter: @shandamccloskey

Spring back for inspiration

April 2, 2018

Tags: #firstpicturebook, Baptiste Paul, Marie Lamba, Gaia Cornwall, Curtis Manley, Wendy BooydeGraaff, Christin Lozano, Megan Wagner Lloyd, Shennen Bersani, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Linda Vander Heyden

Today is April 2nd and it’s snowing here in Connecticut! So I’m going to look back at some #firstpicturebooks that promise warmer weather and inspire me to keep writing . . . instead of hiding under the covers like my dog Ellie. Click on each book title to read the complete #firstpicturebook Q&A:

FINDING WILD:
“I've always loved spending time outside. When I was young I think I took this connection to the natural world for granted. I didn't realize that you really have to hang onto that, or the busyness of life will take over. With my own kids I've tried to encourage outdoor play and a sense of wonder for nature, in both big and little ways. I think all of this was in the back of my mind as I wrote FINDING WILD. I wanted to celebrate nature and the special connection kids--and, really, all of us--can experience when we take the time to notice the beauty and wild all around us.”

ISLAND TOES:
“One of my favorite parts of the book is the surfing spread where it shows a girl surfing. Not only is it wonderful to showcase girls in sports, but this young girl is clearly experienced enough to be able to surf “toes-on-the-nose” style. I remember this phrase coming to mind after I had been working on the manuscript for quite a while.”

TIP TOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES:
“It was inspired by a nature walk I took with my daughters, who were then 6 and 8. They were not especially keen on walks at that time, so we decided that, to liven things up, we would take a stroll through our local nature preserve while being on the lookout for spots where fairies might be hiding. From there the story took on a life of its own - and the result is as you see it!”

MR. MCGINTY’S MONARCHES:
“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.”

SALAD PIE:
“My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.”

THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ:
“I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world.... So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...”

JABARI JUMPS:
“I've always loved to swim and remember clearly learning to jump off the diving board. I try to write stories about moments that are relatable to kids and that one stuck out for me.”

GREEN GREEN:
“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.”

THE FIELD:
“The idea for the story came while playing outside in the rain with my children. They were so happy running in rain, splashing in pools of water and rolling in the dirt.”

ACHOO!:
“I spent three months researching daily everything I could about pollen, forest animals, black bears. I dug up every creature that eats pollen, wrote to vetters to double check the science. I hiked through a few national parks and pine forests, visited live bears in New Hampshire, observed a large honeybee hive at the Boston Museum of Science, and constantly researched bees pollinating flowers everywhere I could. I also contacted beekeepers, and went to multiple butterfly conservatories.”

THIS IS IT

March 26, 2018

Tags: THIS IS IT, Daria Peoples-Riley, Greenwillow Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

When Daria Peoples-Riley was nine years old, she got her first job in the children’s section of her hometown library. Later, she became a teacher and now she is a full-time author/illustrator. Released last month, her #firstpicturebook THIS IS IT is “a beautiful tribute to the power of dance” (Kirkus Reviews) that “shows a girl gaining confidence in herself—an important message for all children” (School Library Journal, starred review).

Q. Was THIS IS IT 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! Ha. The first picture book dummy I finished and submitted to agents was called Joy Ride, and it was rejected over and over and over again. 

Q. What inspired THIS IS IT?
A. THIS IS IT was inspired by my daughter. She is an aspiring classical ballerina, and I originally wrote the poem as a gift to give to her on the day of her first audition. After I enrolled in an online picture book class, I was asked to illustrate a manuscript. I didn’t have a manuscript, so I pulled out the poem to illustrate and it became a picture book in the class.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was the last line of the poem, and it resounded the loudest to me. I thought it was fitting for a few reasons. First, there are only a few "This Is It" moments in life that can potentially alter the course of our destiny. It’s important for us to recognize these moments as they occur instead of in retrospect when often it’s too late, and we regret not making the choice we deeply desired. And, all of those choices determine our journey to becoming the best version of ourselves. We only have one journey, and one opportunity to accomplish all we dream and imagine for ourselves. This is it. The sooner we realize this, the better. And I hope children and the adults who love them receive that message after reading THIS IS IT.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both. Often, in the early stages, I write by hand . And, as I get further along, I move to my laptop. But truth be told, I’ve written entire manuscripts on my iPhone. 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send an image from the book or link to book trailer.)
A. The middle spread. It’s a visual representation of surrender. Whatever happens, happens. Whether we succeed or fail, let it be. We’re here. We’re trying. We’re not eliminating ourselves by not showing up. And yes, it was in the first draft, and the first final art sample I submitted.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. The poem came in second person, and it made sense because of all of the affirmations the shadow speaks to the heroine. 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS IS IT? 
A. All of it. It came out in one draft mainly because I never intended it to be a picture book. It was written from a mother’s soul to her daughter's heart, and that came from a place I'm not sure any other stories will ever come from again.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. As I revised the text once it was acquired, my editor and I settled on the text first, and then I revised the illustrations.
 
Q. Did THIS IS IT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh yes. Everyone rejected it in the first round. 6 or 7
times. But!! One of the rejections held a gem of advice that helped me revise it, and in the second round, it sold in a preempt within 48 hours. 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS IS IT.
A. Well, I was sitting with my mother as we were waiting for my grandmother to go into surgery. Marietta called me, and something told me the book sold before I answered the phone. I stepped out of the pre-op room , and when Marietta told me the news, I accidentally kind of, sort of, might've shrieked in celebration, and my mom came out and yelled at me. I took the phone call in the restroom to continue  my celebratory dance. When I shared the news with my mom, we all got a little weepy. It was really special. Both my mother and my grandmother's mother tried to be published, so I felt like all of our dreams came true. 

Q. How long did THIS IS IT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in April of 2016, and its publishing date was February of 2018. 

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 was really pleased with every word. There was one line, in particular, that was changed in copy edits, but I was just as happy with my revision as I was with the original line.  

Q. Have you read THIS IS IT to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! Many times, and they all giggle when it says, "Shake it baby. SHAKE. IT. BABY." Then, they shake it. Haha!

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS IS IT? If so, what kind?
A. I made bookmarks, posters of the cover, and little tote bags for the book launch.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Write a story for the audience of the one child who needs to read your story, and her story will touch the hearts of all the children who need to hear her story too.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Be yourself. There is only one you.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am illustrating a book by Jessica M. Rinker called Gloria Takes A Stand about the life of Gloria Steinem (Bloomsbury, 2019), and I am working on my next picture book with Greenwillow for Summer of 2019.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
dariapeoples.com
Twitter and IG: @dariaspeoples
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzzKIhf45A4

GLORIA’S VOICE

March 19, 2018

Tags: GLORIA’S VOICE, Aura Lewis, Sterling, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Aura Lewis studied psychology in college but changed paths when she earned her MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Guided by her admiration for feminist Gloria Steinem and her love of 60s-70s fashion and design, Aura created her #firstpicturebook GLORIA’S VOICE—“a subtle ode to an iconic figure of quiet “strength and enormous influence.” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was GLORIA’S VOICE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes!

Q. What inspired GLORIA’S VOICE?
A. I’ve always been interested in the women’s movement, feminism and gender studies. When I thought of writing a picture book biography, I thought of Gloria Steinem- I’ve always admired her, and in a way I also identified with her story, of someone from a small town wanting to go to New York to do something big. This was combined with my love for 60s and 70s fashion and design! I was excited to portray that era. When the idea came to me I knew I had to make it.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title was actually suggested to me by my agent at the time :)

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! I have a sketchbook where I write ideas, and then I organize them on the computer. I actually also write a lot on my phone when I'm commuting!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hmmm. I think my favorite part is the “poster” spread where Gloria and Dorothy go on the road. The idea to make it this way came to me pretty late in the process of making the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I read books, articles and interviews by Ms. Steinem and about her. I watched lots of interviews with her as well as documentaries about the time period. I loved the research part!

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Good question! At first I tried to fit in Ms. Steinem’s whole life. But, I realized after a few drafts that the story arc would be better if it ended much earlier (after the publication of Ms. Magazine.) Ending it there gave the book a better rhythm and an ending with a look to the future.


Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a really organic process—I wrote and drew and wrote and drew until everything came together. The words helped me figure out the spreads, but sometimes I changed the text and pacing of the manuscript in order to fit with the images that I thought would work best.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I have page-by-page notes, with information I wanted to include but couldn’t fit in the story itself. In the notes, I also explain some of the details in the illustrations that have a back story. We also included a biography of Gloria Steinem and a list of other children’s book titles about women’s empowerment.


Q. Did GLORIA’S VOICE  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GLORIA’S VOICE.
A. I was SO excited! I was really, really sick that day—I completely lost my voice so I couldn’t shout for joy. I did do a very happy dance though- and then collapsed on the bed:)

Q. How long did GLORIA’S VOICE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just a little over a year!

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 feel like there’s always something I could change or add about the art or text! In all of my work, I am learning to put it out there and let it be what it is.

Q. Did you create any book swag for GLORIA’S VOICE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes! The publisher made some beautiful posters and buttons to go with the book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Here are a few tips that really helped me:
1. Read a ton of picture books so that you’re really familiar with the genre.
2. Read a great book about writing for kids (there are a few excellent ones out there!)
3. Learn to make a book dummy and mock-up a story in 32 pages (even if it's just words and scribbles!) This will help so much with pacing, storytelling and structure!


Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to try different things at different times, but one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on my next book, THE ILLUSTRATED FEMINIST. It’s an illustrated handbook for adults and YA about American feminist history, coming out in 2020 with Abrams.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I’m on instagram & Twitter:  @auralewis
Website: Auralewis.com
Book discussion guide

THE BOOK OF MISTAKES

March 5, 2018

Tags: THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, #firstpicturebook, Corinna Luyken, Dial Books, 2017

Corinna Luyken submitted manuscripts and book dummies to publishers for 16 years! But it wasn’t until she was inspired by a series of mistakes that she created what would become her #firstpicturebook. Today she talks to us about perfection, progress, and the process of making THE BOOK OF MISTAKES—“a striking debut picture book" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that “lifts to the level of the sublime the idea of putting one’s slip-ups in perspective” (The Wall Street Journal).

Q. Was THE BOOK OF MISTAKES 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 wrote quite a few manuscripts before The Book of Mistakes! I also made 4 or 5 fully illustrated book dummies. But the first manuscript I ever submitted to publishers (back in 2001) was called Sore Feet. It was the story of a small shoe shop and it’s owner, Cornelius O’Leary. I received a few personal rejection letters for that story, which kept me going for years!

Q. What inspired THE BOOK OF MISTAKES?
A. It started with a series of mistakes. For years I drew with pens because I liked the fluid feel of ink on paper. I liked how, with pen, a line can take on a life of it’s own. But often that life would lead to shapes and marks I hadn’t intended and could not erase. Because I loved to draw - and loved to draw with ink - I learned to deal with those accidents. If I messed up something in a face, I’d add glasses. If I didn’t like the way I’d drawn a hand, I might add gloves. And somewhere along the way I learned to enjoy how each mistake forced me to find a new way of looking at the world.

And I began to wonder if celebrating mistakes was something that could be taught.

In my years working as both a teaching assistant and artist in residence in elementary schools, I started to notice a pattern. In every class there would be one or two kids who, within minutes of starting to draw, were raising their hand asking for another piece of paper. They didn’t like what they were seeing. They wanted to start over. They wanted to make it perfect. It became my job to help them see the possibility in that mistake, to see how they could keep going and transform their drawing or painting into something that they still might love.

This all came home for me when my daughter was four years old. At that age she loved everything she drew. She didn’t see mistakes, only pattern and line and color and texture. And she LOVED to draw. Then one day, while drawing, she burst into tears and threw her paper on the ground. She had made a mistake. She couldn’t fix it.

And it broke my heart.

Not yet, I remember thinking. Not her. Not already. Not now.

So I wrote this book. For her. For them. For me. For anyone who has ever made a mistake.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before anything else. Originally, I was thinking of something along the lines of The BIG Book of Miskakes, which was a phrase that I wrote down in my notebook a few years before the rest of the story came along.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The thing that made me laugh out loud, when I was writing the story, was the frog-cat-cow. Which I still love. And of course the tree! I drew the tree seven or eight times to get it just right (in part because it crosses the gutter twice) and I never got tired of redrawing it. Both of those were in the first draft. But I also love the spread where you see the silhouette of the forest, and just the topmost hint of the girl’s glasses. That page turn makes kids gasp when I read it in classrooms. One or two kids will see it first, and let out an audible “oh!” and then suddenly all the kids are looking to see what they saw, and then there will be a chorus of oohs and ahs and kids saying “It’s her! I see the girl!” It’s so fun!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. The first half of the book came to me, all at once. And that was just the way it arrived! The second half was another matter, and took an entire year to sort out.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE BOOK OF MISTAKES? 
A. I had a pretty good sense of the first half of the book. Which, at the time, I thought would be the entire book. I knew I wanted to include real mistakes that I make when I draw… so that first part was pretty easy. Originally, the story ended with the giant tree. And a line about how she wasn’t a mistake but was meant to be. But when I sent it along to (my now agent) Steven Malk, he felt like the ending could be stronger. It took me almost a year to find another way to end the story. It wasn’t easy, and I experimented a lot. And so I started to experiment with big splashes of ink. After that, it all came together pretty quickly, and the book doubled in size!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. With this story, the words and pictures came simultaneously.

Q. Did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A It didn’t. I have received many rejection letters—I’d been sending out manuscripts and book dummies for almost 16 years. But when I wrote The Book of Mistakes I knew it was better than anything else I’d written. So I sent it to Steve Malk, an agent at Writers House, with fingers crossed. And fortunately, he loved it (except for the ending). But it was still an entire year of revising the story before I came up with the ending as it is now. At that point he signed me on as a client and we sent the book out. It ended up going to auction, with five publishers interested in it. That part all happened very quickly, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it was seventeen years of very slow progress and then a few weeks where everything came together very quickly!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.
A. I was over the moon! My husband and I both were. We jumped up and down a LOT. It was a pretty incredible time.

But then, pretty quickly, I realized there was still a lot of work to do! Which is a good thing, because in the end it is our relationship with the creative process (not the excitement of finding an agent and having a manuscript published) that will feed the next project, and the next…

Q. How long did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was very close to finished when we submitted it, but I did have to ink up some of the final scenes and redraw the tree, and then assemble some of the bits and pieces in photoshop. All of that back and forth with the publisher took another year.

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. Yes! There was a part in the original story that had to go. A boy, with extra wide fingers.

I still love him. But early on, Steve said something about how I was starting to repeat myself with that character and line. And as soon as he said that, I realized he was right, it had to go.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It takes patience and persistence, nothing in this industry moves quickly. (They call it the hurry up and wait industry for a reason.) But if you really love what you’re doing, if you’re passionate about making books for kids, you will persist. And your art will get better because of that. I have a favorite quote from Ira Glass that are worth repeating here:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. 
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.  
And the thing that I would say to you, with all of my heart, is this—most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase—they went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you've got to  know it's normal.  And the most important thing you can do—is do a lot of work.  It is only by going through a volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap.  And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions. 
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while.  It’s gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. And you've just got to fight your way through that— okay?” 

—Ira Glass 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As far as writing or illustrating exercises, I would just recommend this Chuck Close quote! Which I have found to be absolutely true and incredibly helpful. So much so, that I’ve quoted in a few other interviews, but I think it bears repeating over and over (and over) again:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.” 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished illustrating a book called Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have A Horse, written by debut author Marcy Campbell, which is coming out August 14, 2018 from Dial Books. It is essentially a story about compassion and kindness. And seeing the world a bit differently. (The publishers description is: “Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse--the best and most beautiful horse anywhere. But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse? The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn't get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.”)

So now I am working on two new projects—one is my next book as author/illustrator. It is called my heart, my heart and is a meditation on/celebration of the heart. The art for that one is all monoprint printmaking and pencil, so it will look quite different from The Book of Mistakes!

I am also illustrating a middle grade novel by Carolyn Crimi, called Weird Little Robots, which will be released from Candlewick in the spring of 2019.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
www.corinnaluyken.com
t: @corinnaluyken
IG: corinnaluyken
fb: corinna Luyken illustration

THE FIELD

February 25, 2018

Tags: THE FIELD, #firstpicturebook, Baptiste Paul, Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth, 2018

Baptiste Paul is a dad, sports fan, woodworker, gardener, and school speaker. On March 6th, he will also be an author. Today he does a quick Q&A of his #firstpicturebook THE FIELD—an “excellent” (Kirkus Reviews) and “engaging book . . . sure to resonate with children who are passionate about soccer and even those who simply enjoy lively play. (School Library Journal)

Q. What inspired THE FIELD?
A.The inspiration for THE FIELD came about as a result of my childhood experiences. The idea for the story came while playing outside in the rain with my children. They were so happy running in rain, splashing in pools of water and rolling in the dirt. I saw myself in them and, although our childhood experiences were totally different, we found joy in the same exact thing.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I like every part of the book. One of my favorite parts is when the kid is chasing the animals off the field. It was something we did everyday before we started our game. This scene was in the first draft and it was the only part where I included illustrator notes.

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. Kids getting into a little scuffle after a rough tackle from one of his friends was cut from the book. I believe that part was important simply because, there were days we got into scuffles with each other but we always found a way to settle our differences before the game ended.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Live life deliberately and ideas will find you. Record moments for later use. What works for one person might not work for the other. With life constantly evolving around me, I walk around all day with a memo book and a pencil tucked above my ear to record those moments.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A . When I’m working on a piece, I ask questions like who, what, why, where, when and how over and over again. I always think universal — similarities and differences. Most times those questions are being answered while I pace back and forth talking out loud to myself.

Q: Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
A. Website
Twitter: @baptistepaul
Watch THE FIELD book trailer