#FirstPictureBook

PORCUPINE’S PIE

October 15, 2018

Tags: PORCUPINE’S PIE, Laura Renauld, Jennie Poh, Beaming Books, 2018

Last week, former third-grade teacher Laura Renauld became a debut picture book author! Inspired by a post in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2014, Laura came up with a title...and then wrote a story for it. Today, she shares some key ingredients for her #firstpicturebook, PORCUPINE’S PIE—Winner of the Beaming Books Picture Book Contest.

Q. Was PORCUPINE’S PIE 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. Not even close! About twelve years ago, when I started to pursue my dream of writing books for children, I wrote a story about a childhood memory. It had a kid-friendly hook (the neighbor’s kitten met my pet rabbit and decided to try hopping), but it didn’t have: plot, conflict, heart… So I guess it wasn’t really a story! When manuscripts don’t work out, they go in the Story Grave folder on my computer.

Q. What inspired PORCUPINE’S PIE?
A. I have been an enthusiastic participant in Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (now Storystorm) since 2011. I was inspired by Tammi Sauer’s post during PiBoIdMo 2014, which challenged writers to frame a story as a How-To Book. My brainstorming that day included this jot in my notebook: “How to make porcupine pie (or a pie for a porcupine)”. Even though it did not evolve into a How-To Book, that was the beginning!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before the story. I loved the alliteration of PORCUPINE’S PIE, so I brainstormed a story to fit!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I primarily use the computer, but when I’m brainstorming, I create story webs by hand. When I’m storyboarding, I use index cards or dummy books to check pacing and page turns.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the end and the collaborative Friendship Pie, especially now that I’ve seen it illustrated. The idea was in my first draft, but the wording and presentation of it have changed.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. With Porcupine as the main character, I stuck with animal names for consistency: Squirrel, Bear, and Doe.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. It just seemed a natural fit. Sometimes I will try out other points of view as I’m drafting, but I didn’t with this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PORCUPINE’S PIE? 
A. Not much! As I mentioned, I started with the title. That gave me my main character. I also knew the problem would have to involve pie. That was it!

Q. Did PORCUPINE’S PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No rejection letters, just crickets from one editor.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PORCUPINE’S PIE.
A. Thanks to Sub It Club, I learned of the Beaming Books (formerly Sparkhouse Family) Picture Book Contest. So I entered. When I received the email that I had won, I was actively seeking an agent and submitting manuscripts to open publishers. Getting rejections in my inbox was a regular occurrence. I had to read the email two or three times before it sunk in that I was reading an acceptance letter. It was thrilling! I shared my good news right away with my husband, my kids, my parents, and all the people in my life who were cheering on my budding writing career.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My publisher asked what style of art I envisioned, which is more input than I was expecting. Luckily, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to illustrators I admire, so I shared that with her.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Jennie Poh breathed life into my characters. I love Porcupine’s turquoise boots and how each character has a stylish accessory.

Q. How long did PORCUPINE’S PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 1 year, 10 months.

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. Originally, I had Porcupine cover her pail with an art note that cranberries would drop out of a hole in the pail as she moved through the forest. During the editorial process, this was changed to make the cranberries visibly fall out. I understood the choice, as it is easier for readers to notice what is happening and look for clues, but I do like the unexpected surprise of the pail being uncovered to find it empty.

Q. Have you read PORCUPINE’S PIE to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! My two boys and my niece and nephew giggled at the part when Bear almost hugs Porcupine. They also enjoyed rereading to find when the cranberries start falling out of the pail!

Q. Did you create any book swag for PORCUPINE’S PIE? If so, what kind?
A. Yes. I had bookmarks and stickers printed.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Join SCBWI and start going to conferences in your region. Join a critique group. Read everything you can get your hands on that is current in your genre. Check out the abundance of online writing resources, groups, courses, and challenges. My favorites are kidlit411.com, subitclub.com, taralazar.com, napibowriwee.com, and picturebookbuilders.com. Okay, those are several tips. But all are worth noting!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Participate in the kidlit community. It is an incredibly generous and supportive group of people! Volunteer for your local SCBWI conference. Join an online writing challenge. Review books on your blog. Give shout-outs on social media for deal announcements, book birthdays, awards, … anything! Don’t think of other kidlit folks as competitors. Think of them as cheerleaders. When you reach out, others reach back.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several picture book manuscripts at various stages in the revision process. I like having more than one project going at a time. If I get stuck with one, I can move on to the next!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: laurarenauld.com
Twitter - @laura_renauld
Facebook – @kidlitlaura
Instagram - @laurarenauld

If you have read PORCUPINE’S PIE, please consider writing a review:
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PAUL AND HIS UKULELE

October 8, 2018

Tags: PAUL AND HIS UKULELE, #firstpicturebook, Robert Broder, Jenn Kocsmiersky, Ripple Grove Press, 2018

Robert Broder is the Publisher and Creative Director at Ripple Grove Press where he has worked on several picture book debuts. But recently Rob published his own #firstpicturebook. “Impressively original and immensely entertaining“ (Midwest Book Review), PAUL AND HIS UKULELE is “a quiet story of a life made happy by following a passion for music” (Booklist)

Q. Was PAUL AND HIS UKULELE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. PAUL AND HIS UKULELE was not my first picture book.  It was probably a rhyming story about a weed growing next to a flower.  But that was a long time ago.

Q. What are the pros and cons of being the publisher and author of PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. The pros were being able to take a story we liked and making it a book.  The cons would be, well, during the making of the book, I didn't tell Jenn Kocsmiesky, the illustrator that I wrote the book. I didn't want that in the back of her mind because I was also the creative director on the project. 

Q. What inspired PAUL AND HIS UKULELE?
A. I guess you can say my own life.  I traveled quite a bit, then met Amanda, started playing ukulele, started Ripple Grove Press.  So when you read the book, there are similarities.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title for the book was original "Paul" because I like simple titles. But our distributor suggested when searching (on the internet or in data bases) for just the title "Paul" a whole lot would come up.  But when searching for "Paul and His Ukulele" it narrows the search.  But I like this more.  Because the book really is about Paul and his love for his ukulele.  

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I start by hand, then type it up. Then print it out, then edit it. Then fix those edits on the computer, then print it out again. and keep doing this process. I like editing on paper.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. There's a spread where Paul is playing his ukulele on his front porch, while the other kids play freeze tag.  When I see that spread I think, that's me.  I was the kid that was indoors playing with Legos or my Matchbox cars instead of outside playing sports or physical activities. 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I was looking for a very simple name for the main character.  And I have a friend named Paul, and it just stuck. Four-Finger Frank came to me because Frank is such a mechanic’s name.  And then since a ukulele has four strings, it fit.  I thought it was funny that something must have happened to his finger a long time ago being a mechanic. And Clementine came to me because I wanted a longer name than Paul. And was also fitting because the name is in a song, which is what he's searching for in the book.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Maybe because it’s similar to my own life, I wanted to remove myself from it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? 
A. I would say half.  And as I kept writing, more and more comes from it.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I wrote Paul, in my mind he was always a boy.  But when I saw Jenn's portfolio, she had these wonderful foxes.  It just fit. So when I first saw the sketches, it just shined. And Jenn and I discussed together what the cover and back cover should be.

Q. When you read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I would say when Paul meets Four-Finger Frank.  I usually do a lower voice for Frank too.  Since he's illustrated as a Pig, and he's a mechanic, I imagine him having a very rough, low sounding voice.

Q. Did you create any book swag for PAUL AND HIS UKULELE? If so, what kind?
A. My wife surprised me with pins with images from the book.  So sweet. I can't wait to give them out at my story times.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. READ PICTURE BOOKS!!! Sorry for the all caps.  I hear all the time "I want to write picture books" or "it looks so easy" but they don't read picture books. It will help guide your style and imagination.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite writing exercise is going for walks and making myself think on the story. What is working, what isn't, what will make your story slightly different. The mindful walk helps shape the story.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a couple more picture books. Trying to think outside the box. Building on sweet characters in unique situations.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A.
Saturday, Nov 3 at Phoenix Books in Rutland Vermont at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Saturday, Nov 17 at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs NY at 11am with Jenn Kocsmiesky
Here's the event calendar link: 
http://www.ripplegrovepress.com/new-events/?view=calendar&month=September-2018

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
RobertBroder.com
@RobbieBroder
RippleGrovePress.com/Paul  
Book trailer

If you have read PAUL AND HIS UKULELE, please consider writing a review:
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THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY

October 1, 2018

Tags: THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, #firstpicturebook, Hannah Holt, Jay Fleck, HarperCollins, 2018

Hannah Holt is an engineer and the granddaughter of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Using her grandfather’s personal writings and journals along with interviews of family members, Hannah created her #firstpicturebook. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY is “a gem of a biography” and a “clever dual narrative [that] conveys both how diamonds form naturally underground and how inventor H.Tracy Hall discovered a way to make diamonds in a lab” (Booklist, starred review).

Q. Was THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY 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, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY wasn't in the first dozen or so stories I wrote. I have an "Old and Dead" folder on my computer where most of these stories live. Usually their biggest offense was being boring and unoriginal. I can rewrite terrible prose. I can't rewrite a mediocre premise.

Q. What inspired THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
A. My grandfather is "the boy" in this story. I grew up hearing stories about him as a child in my mother's arms.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Ha! I didn't. The marketing department did. I like the title, and I was consulted on the change. However, I didn't "pick it."

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
Computer.

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 Jay Fleck's illustrations, so no, those weren't in the first draft.  I'm thrilled with all they add to the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I tried to use as many primary sources as possible, like Tracy's personal writings and journals. I also interviewed family members and consulted non-fiction books about Tracy and diamonds.

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Tracy had a very humble beginning to his life. I wanted to start in a place that showed that most acutely; hence, starting with him as a toddler living in a tent. On the diamond side, I started before graphite began to change. The stories follow parallel tracks but end at the same place.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I included a brief history of diamonds and their role in both science and geo-political conflicts. I also included a few more details about Tracy's life, two pictures of him, and a selected bibliography. With all this information, my end note ended up being longer than the text of the story.

Q. Did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY was rejected nine times. It had two offers and one interested editor who wasn't able to respond within the time-frame called for making a decision. However, I had submitted many stories over the years and accrued more than 100 rejections before I received my first book contract.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY.
A. I was stunned. I had become so good at rejection that I almost didn't know what to do with success. That day, I mostly felt numb. However, the next day the tears of joy finally came.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. The editor sent me four illustrators for consideration. Jay Fleck was by far my favorite and fortunately, he accepted the project. Hurrah!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.

Q. How long did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two 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. Not really.

Q. When you read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The "ERUPTION" page is fun. It's full of vibrant colors. It's  a full spread and readers turn the book sideways for the full effect.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY? If so, what kind?
A. I ordered diamond temporary tattoos and postcards. I'm also working on a teachers guide that I hope is finished and on my website before this post goes live. :)

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Study a little. Read a lot. Write the most. I guess that's technically three tips, but here's a fourth tip: break the rules!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Be generous! Make friends with other writers, and try to give more than you receive.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a new non-fiction story in the works, but I can't talk about it yet.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. My launch party is Tuesday October 02, 2018 at 3:00 PM:
Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne
18300 NW Evergreen Pkwy
Beaverton, OR 97006
503-645-3046

I'm also doing a story time October 25th at 3:30 at Green Bean Books in Portland and a story time at Powell's in the Spring. I'll post details about that on Twitter as it gets closer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: https://hannahholt.com/
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/hannah.w.holt?ref=br_rs
Twitter: @HannahWHolt

If you have read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, please consider writing a review:
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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
 

SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN

August 13, 2018

Tags: SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN, #firstpicturebook, Mike Petrik, Two Lions, 2018

Animator and illustrator Mike Petrik loves Halloween! As a kid, he decorated his house in August. Now, as a grown-up, he’s celebrating this summer with the publication of his #firstpicturebook SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN—a “lavishly illustrated, laugh-out-loud picture book about a boy who loves Halloween so much that he tries to celebrate it year-round.” (Booklist)

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN.   How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. Storytelling was always something I loved to do, but I was never really confident in my ability to write for children's publishing.  I put together a dummy of SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN to send along with query letters when I was looking for agent representation.  When I found Teresa at Bookmark Literary, she loved the idea so much that we did several rounds of revisions and sent it out, which ended up selling! When I'm illustrating for my own stories, I always kind of know what to expect from myself.  If I'm working on illustrating a story or poem for Highlights for Children, for example, I may have the opportunity to draw something I never would have otherwise, which is always a fun challenge!

Q. Was SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN 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! This is the first one I put together when I really wanted to take this whole children's publishing thing seriously.  

Q. What inspired SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN?
A. Well, it's sort of autobiographical.  My Mom likes to tell the story of the day she came home from work and my brother and I had dragged out and hung all of the Halloween decorations in early August.  I just love the whole Halloween season, and now that I have a family of my own, it's exciting to see my own children get excited about it too.  This past October for my daughters birthday, we did a whole haunted basement walk through for the kids, and my middle son Sammy had a blast jumping out and scaring the older kids!  Guess its in the blood.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title was something we muddled with forever.  Nothing sounded right, and the list grew and grew.  I was even at a point of listing words and combining them together, just as a way to hopefully land on the winner.  In the end, I knew I wanted the words Sammy in there and Halloween in there.  I'm 99% sure it was the awesome folks over at Two Lions who suggested the final title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both.  A lot of writing happened alongside drawing in the sketchbook.  Once I had some solid ideas there, I would type it out.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. What turned out to be my favorite spread was the one of the haunted house fully operational and showcasing all the cool spooky stuff they had built.  I drew this one last because it was the scariest to me and I was worried that I wouldn't get the image that I had in my head onto the paper.  This particular spread wasn't included in the first draft, but I'm glad it's in there now!  

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Molly, Sammy, and Luke are the names of my three kids! 

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. Using a narrator to tell the story of Sammy was something I had from the very first dummy.  I wanted a tone of a traditional holiday story, with a narrator taking us through the events, then we get a closer look as we move into the dialogue.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN? 
A. The story structure from the very first dummy to the final is essentially the same.  I knew the story I wanted to tell, and through all of the revisions, the heart of the story remained the same.  

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Writing and illustrating happened along side each other, which was great to keep it fresh for myself as I moved along.  Doodling in the sketchbook would reveal new things that I never would have discovered if I was just writing, and vice versa. 

Q. Did SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh boy, yes.  If I had to put a number on it, probably around 30? 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN.
A. I couldn't really believe it!  There were a couple of "hey, we are interested in this, but maybe in year or two we can fit it in..." types of responses.  Which, even though they were rejections, it felt nice to get a positive response to the book.  So, when the offer came in, I told myself not to get excited until I actually had my name on a legal contract. 

Q. How long did SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was about a year and a half from when I signed the contract to when I delivered final files.  

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 one scene from a very early draft of Sammy writing a love letter to monsters on Valentines Day.  It didn't really fit, so unfortunately had to go. 

Q. Did you create any book swag for SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN? If so, what kind?
A. Nothing yet since we are so early in promoting, but I have some plans!  A trick or treat bag with some Sammy art on it to give away, along with bookmarks that double as trading cards of the characters.  The big one though is I will have a Sammy plush figure to give away as a prize on release day!  

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't stop.  No matter what.  If you really want it, be the one who is up late working on a dummy while every else has thrown in the towel.  

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I am biased since I am an illustrator, but I don't think I would be able to write without sketching ideas along side the writing.  Maybe this is something to try if you are having a creative block?

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I actually just turned in rough illustrations on a new story for the August 2018 issue of Highlights for Children.  All farm animal themed! 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.mikepetrik.com
https://twitter.com/mikepetrik
https://www.instagram.com/mikepetrik/
https://www.facebook.com/mikepetrikillustration

If you have read SAMMY’S SPOOKTACULAR HALLOWEEN, please consider writing a review:
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IVER & ELLSWORTH

August 6, 2018

Tags: IVER & ELLSWORTH, Casey W. Robinson, Melissa Leann Larson, Ripple Grove Press, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Driving past a seltzer factory, Casey W. Robinson saw something that inspired her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us how she travelled from that moment of inspiration to the publication of IVER & ELLSWORTH —“an original and unfailingly entertaining picture book" (Midwest Book Review), “sure to be a bedtime favorite.” (BookPage).

Q. Was IVER & ELLSWORTH the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Definitely not! I wrote many (terrible) picture book manuscripts before Iver & Ellsworth. They all sit very neatly in a file marked OLD on my computer.

Q. What inspired IVER & ELLSWORTH?
A. I was on a road trip with my family and we drove past the Polar Seltzer factory in nearby Worcester, MA. The factory has a rooftop bear, which we’ve driven past many times. But this time as we waved to the bear I thought, I wonder what this bear’s name is and what kind of life he leads… this would make a great story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was the obvious choice!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Mostly on the computer because it’s fast and I constantly fiddle with words as I write. But I take notes on paper whenever I think of a phrase, first line, bit of dialog etc so there are scraps of paper all over my house and tucked into pockets of clothing and jackets.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The two-page spread that begins “Before he returns to work, Iver always makes sure that Ellsworth looks his best.” This was in the first draft. I just love the way Melissa pulled it all into one spread.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. “Iver” was easy – it felt like it suited his character, an older name, uncommon but not too quirky. (I have a list of names I like that I keep for characters yet to be created.) Originally the bear’s name was Orson. But as that is the trademarked name of the Polar Seltzer bear, my editor and I brainstormed new names – he liked “Ellsworth” because of the character in Deadwood, and I liked it because it's a town in Maine near where I grew up.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Third person provided the right distance from which to observe this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing IVER & ELLSWORTH? 
A. I knew the beginning – both the setting and how to establish their deep friendship. But I had no idea how it would end! I wrote and re-wrote many different endings before I settled on one that felt right. And then we changed it again during revisions.

Q. Did IVER & ELLSWORTH receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Actually, no. Ripple Grove Press was my first submission. I took a long time to assess which publisher would be the right fit for the story. Also: I’ve received plenty of rejections since then!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on IVER & ELLSWORTH.
A. Ecstatic. I remember jumping up and down in my kitchen with excitement and the stunned looks of delight on my three daughters’ faces as they watched me and wondered what on earth was happening.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Rob and I had a few in-depth conversations about general art direction. I sent him the names of a few illustrators whose style felt similar to what I had in mind for IVER & ELLSWORTH. We were definitely on the same page and I felt very comfortable when he said I’d hear from him once he had signed the illustrator.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I saw the very first sketch of the characters, my first reaction was “Of course!” I didn’t know Iver wears a cap and has a mustache, but of course he does. I had the same reaction when I saw the jacket cover – Of course. It’s perfect.

Q. How long did IVER & ELLSWORTH take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two 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. We turned a good portion of what I’d written for the second half of the book into wordless spreads, so I edited out probably ~150 words. But for good reason – that part of the book is now much more powerful because you get to experience it visually alongside the main characters.

Q. When you read IVER & ELLSWORTH to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When the wordless spreads begin, kids usually lean right in to see what’s happening. The scene where Ellsworth is next to the Dinosaur billboard seems to be a crowd pleaser.

Q. Did you create any book swag for IVER & ELLSWORTH? If so, what kind?
A. I did – bookmarks, post cards and stickers. For my book launch event I also got balloons printed with Ellsworth on one side, which I love!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read as much as possible – all types of picture books, old and new. And don’t limit yourself to picture books: novels, graphic novels, poetry -- be insatiably curious about words and the art of storytelling.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Marketing tip: Spend time helping to promote other authors and the books you love – write online reviews or reviews on your blog, post book covers on social media, retweet news of deals or book launches. The kidlit community is fueled by this kind of reciprocity; it will come back around when it’s your turn to celebrate.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Many more picture book manuscripts. I have about 6 that are in various stages of revision.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
www.CaseyWRobinson.com
https://twitter.com/CaseyWRobinson
https://www.instagram.com/cwrobinson/

If you have read this book, please consider writing a review:
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Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

July 23, 2018

Tags: Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes, Carly Gledhill, Orchard Books, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Carly Gledhill has worked as a print designer for studios and retailers and completed an M.A. in children’s book illustration. In April, she became an author too when her #firstpicturebook was published by Orchard Books. Today she tells us about creating MONTY & SYLVESTER: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes, including how she got the names for her characters after watching a popular daytime television show.

Q. Was MONTY & SYLVESTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. MONTY & SYLVESTER is the first book I finished writing from start to end, I had tried a few times before to write but nothing came together. The book was quite a quick process, everything fell into place organically, although I still wasn’t sure it was any good when I had finished. I completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration and had made many novelty books to avoid having to write a story, so it’s not my natural habitat.

Q. What inspired MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I drew the characters first and they existed for a while before I came back to them. I loved the unlikely friendship between big furry bear and little blue mouse. I was trying, and failing, to work on other stories, so I thought I’d give these 2 another go. The original drawings really inspired the story at this point, the characters seemed quite naive and lovable so the story naturally lent this way. I decided they should become superheroes when thinking about what kids do at play time, obviously flying and saving the world was what I did as a toddler so it seemed about right. They are the least likely characters to do well at being superheroes too which is where the humour kicks in, pow!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I wanted the title to reflect the everyday playtime nature of the story. Obviously MONTY & SYLVESTER need their name in lights on the cover as they are the stars, but it is just a tale of playtime gone exciting, it could happen to anyone!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. All by hand for this one, there isn’t an awful lot of text in the book and a lot of it relies on humour. I drew it all out as I illustrated the book. I’ve always used type in my illustration so knew where and what it should look like to enhance the story. Some of the original hand-drawn type made it into the final version too.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The first spread is probably my favourite. It hasn’t really changed since the first draft and sums up the personalities of our protagonists straight away! It’s a soft introduction to the book, sets the scene with a few clues of what’s to come!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. They were originally named after a couple of property developers on daytime TV Favourite ‘Homes under the Hammer’. (I don’t watch daytime TV usually I was just waiting for a delivery to arrive, honestly.)

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Oh dear, I didn’t, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of narration and the characters chatting away!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I had the basic outline ready—2 friends want to be super heroes that day, they’re a bit rubbish at it, they need a plan! I knew the setting would be domestic. I think that was about it. It really escalated from there with a different problem at the turn of each page, introducing more characters and peril!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I have to get excited about the characters so I usually start with a good drawing of what they will look like then usually they talk to me and lead their own adventure!

With MONTY & SYLVESTER I didn’t know what I was doing, so I did both at the same time. Now I’ve got more of a clue. I try to write the story first before illustrating the spreads, working on storyboards with rough sketches.

Q. Did MONTY & SYLVESTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was very lucky in this respect, I sent the book to my agent Arabella at the Bright Agency and very soon Orchard Books were interested in it. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONTY & SYLVESTER.
A. Disbelief, excitement, ticking off life goals with a big pen!

Q. How long did MONTY & SYLVESTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It’s been about a year and a half, which as an illustrator who has worked commercially for years, seems forever! I’ve just received my advanced copies of the book, so it still isn’t out in the world yet. I can’t wait!

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. It was more the opposite with this book. The initial book had very clean spreads, very minimal with a pared down colour palette and I had to add more in. More was needed to make the book more colourful and action packed, inspired by classic Batman with graphic stars and action words.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It’s fine to give up on an idea and move on to something else, not every idea will work. You’ll know when you’re onto the right one. Also leaving your desk and going for a walk, or taking a few days off to refuel the mind is usually a good idea when things get frustrating.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I love storyboards. Making the story fit with exciting doodle illustrations is my favourite part. I usually have lots of blank storyboards printed out and go through tens of them before everything fits and flows together. It’s picture book problem solving!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m just completing the second MONTY & SYLVESTER book with Orchard (top secret at the mo). Then I’m going to have a bit of time to draw and be creative and think of some new book ideas. I also have a children’s brand called Corby Tindersticks, I’ve just designed some new products so I’m working on marketing those too! You can see more at www.corbytindersticks.com

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.carlygledhill.com
instagram.com/carly_gledhill
twitter.com/carlygledhill

CURIOSITY

July 16, 2018

Tags: Curiosity, Markus Motum, Walker Books, 2018

While doing research for his #firstpicturebook, Markus Motum visited the NASA’s Twitter account for the Mars Rover which was written in first person. Markus knew that element would help the reader connect with the robot’s story so he followed the rover’s lead in CURIOSITY —“a fascinating page turner” (New York Journal of Books) and an “engaging children’s book debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was CURIOSITY 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 my first after graduating, however my final major project at university was a picture book. I already loved picture books but it was that project which cemented the fact that I wanted to make them myself.

Q. What inspired CURIOSITY?
A. The true story of Curiosity—a rover the size of a 1 tonne car, successfully making its way to Mars, attempting a never before done landing—to me was stranger, or rather, more wonderful then fiction. On the one hand it was a great scientific based story, but on the other I just saw this amazing story with a rover people seemed to care about on a personal level. 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The name of the rover was such a perfect fit for the title of the book. The book shows where your curiosity can take you. Clara Ma won a NASA competition to name the rover, and part of her submitted essay for the competition is used to close out the book itself. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I'll start by hand, as ideas or sentences come to me I'll want to get them down immediately, for me there's no more instant method than pen to paper. Notes or paragraphs will be jotted all around my sketchbooks. As the project progresses and I need something resembling a coherent story, I need the computer to help!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 
A. I always liked the last few spreads, which take place after the rover has finished telling us about her journey. The story beats haven't changed since my original idea. I also had to change the colour of the Martian sky for one spread, as the colours I had chosen didn't match up to the time of day it would have been when Curiosity landed on local Martian time! I really liked the new colours and how it turned out. 

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this story?
A. I used a number of books, including the Haynes Owner's Workshop manual which featured previous rovers like Spirit and Opportunity, as well as Curiosity. NASA is great at putting out content whether it be written or videos, so I had a great library of resources from things they just make public. Finally to make sure the book held up to factual and scientific scrutiny, Walker brought on a Mars expert, Stuart Atkinson, who brought some great insight to the project and was great at making sure the text (and pictures!) were kept accurate. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. In the very early days, when I was still approaching how I might tackle the book and story, I visited the rovers official Twitter account, and saw that the rover tweets in the 1st person. “My launch was a total success!” or “I’m making final preparations for my landing...wish me luck.” It created an immediate connection for audiences with this rover. It anthropomorphized the rover beautifully, and I knew having the rover talk directly to the readers could help in getting them engaged. I didn't want this to be a dry science lesson. By the end I wanted readers to really care about this rover and its amazing journey, and hopefully having it in the 1st person helped achieve this. 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The story was only very loosely planned out before the images I wanted in there started popping into my head, from there they would appear in tandem. 

Q. Did CURIOSITY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I made a list of dream publishers I would love to be published by, and was going to work my way down the list, sending my only copy of the book to each in turn. That was the plan, but Walker Books, at the top of the list, asked me to come have a meeting with them. Needless to say I was rather caught off guard!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CURIOSITY.
A. I tried to remain as calm as possible — I didn't want to risk counting my chickens before they had hatched. Needless to say my parents reaction more then made up for my seemingly calm one!

Q. How long did CURIOSITY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took a little over year, which was spent making many iterations and changes to the one I had originally pitched to Walker. Some of this was narrative based, to help the book and story flow better, and some of this was changing illustrations based on Stuart's Mars knowledge.  

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. Towards the end of the book there was an additional spread of the rover with no text which I really wanted to keep, but we had too many pages so the spread had to go. There was so much to cover in the book, there was nowhere else we could take pages out!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books? 
A. Spend time working on your idea/story. Once you've got your foundations established, everything else will fall into place that much easier. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. It’s not a very original one, but always have your pen and sketchbook/paper to hand wherever you go. You can guarantee inspiration or an idea is going to come to you when you least expect, not when when you need it the most! 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently working on a book cover for a novel by Walker Books— producing artwork for someone else's writing is a first for me, and solidifying ideas for the difficult second album, or rather picture book!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I'm on Twitter (@markusmotum ), Instagram (markus_motum), and my blog can be found at www.markusillustration.blogspot.com 

THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD

June 18, 2018

Tags: THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD, Sarah Jane Marsh, Edwin Fotheringham, Disney-Hyperion, 2018

After teaching American Revolution history in elementary and middle schools, Sarah Jane Marsh became intrigued with Thomas Paine—author of the pamphlet Common Sense, which rallied the American people to declare independence against England. His journey of courage, failure, and resilience inspired her to write her #firstpicturebook. In THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD, “Marsh does a fine job of mixing the personal and public elements of Paine's life; he comes across as not just a historical figure, but a fully realized fellow, with hopes and dreams, enthusiasms and disappointments.” (Booklist, starred review)

Q. Was THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. THOMAS PAINE was my first picture book manuscript. Once I committed to writing about Paine, I spent three years researching and experimenting with different angles and voices across multiple drafts.
 
Q. What inspired THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD?
 A. I developed a fascination with the American Revolution after reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s INDEPENDENT DAMES with my kids. I became such a nut about the subject that my daughters’ 5th grade teachers invited me to teach the American Revolution to their grade.
 
Along the way I became enamored with Paine and his renegade spirit and resilient life. Before he wrote his scandalous Common Sense advocating for American independence, he sewed corsets in England.  As a teenager, he ran away to be a privateer (a government-approved pirate) and later struggled through repeated failures before discovering he had knack with words. His story inspired me to persevere with my own writing aspirations. No one had written a picture book biography on him, so I wanted to try.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
 A. Students often discover Thomas Paine and his Common Sense in a sanitized paragraph in their history textbook. We forget that Paine wrote about a dangerous subject during a dangerous time. He was counseled not to write about the subject of independence or even mention the word. Common Sense was shocking. It was explosive. And it was a game-changer. I wanted to capture those feelings in THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.  
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
 A. I prefer to write by hand when I’m starting out. It’s less daunting. I jot down research notes in a spiral notebook and when I’m inspired by a gem of information, I scribble my own retelling in different voices. When I have a good sense of the story, I switch to Scrivener on my computer and write lots of bad drafts, rearranging and retelling different story beats. Ultimately, I set aside about 95% of my writing as I streamline the story for young readers.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. I love when “persuaded by words on a page,” teenage Paine runs away to be a privateer with Captain Death aboard the Terrible. It shows his courage in taking action to change his destiny. And later, he uses his own words to persuade American colonists to change their destiny by declaring independence. But also, it’s important to show kids that sometimes the results of our big moves are not what we expect. Sometimes what we say “no” to is as important as what we say “yes” to.
 
The privateering scene was in my first draft, but in more detail with twists and turns. We discussed eliminating this section because of the lengthy word count, but compromised by slimming it down. And Ed’s action-packed illustration was the cherry on top. To my delight, this is the section kids most want to talk about.
 
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I seeped myself in history by reading books and Paine’s own words, watching documentaries, visiting the historical sites, and tracking down primary sources online. I’m a stickler for using primary sources, so I went on some wild journeys to chase particular quotes to the original source. A particular thrill was finding the original newspaper advertisement for the Terrible in a database through my local library.
 
Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
 A. Determining a timeframe was a real challenge. Thomas Paine led a full life stirring up trouble around the world with his opinionated writings. However, I wanted to concentrate on his role in the American Revolution. My original draft extended through the end of the war and was 3900 words. I knew I needed to cut, cut, cut!
 
My agent, Caryn Wiseman, suggested ending my manuscript at the Declaration of Independence and moving the rest to the author’s note. This is valuable advice for nonfiction writers. You can always tell more of your story in the back matter.
 
Q. Did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
 A. We received about 7 rejections.  We knew my manuscript was risky because of the length -- about 2500 words. But my agent Caryn was an ardent supporter of the lengthy story and advocated for it. She found a similar spirit in Disney-Hyperion editor Rotem Moscovich who embraced Thomas and his resilient journey and dedicated 80 pages to tell his story.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.
 A. Stunned. Caryn had kept me in the loop about the many meetings in the approval process, so we were crossing fingers and toes that THOMAS PAINE would make it through. When the offer came, I felt a deep sense of relief and appreciation that Disney-Hyperion loved this story as much as I did.
 
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. To my surprise, Disney invited me to submit a “wish list” of illustrators. I had been so focused on crafting the best possible manuscript that I hadn’t allowed myself to daydream about potential illustrators. However, I loved Edwin Fotheringham’s work so he topped my list. His book with Barbara Kerley, THOSE REBELS, JOHN & TOM, was a mentor text and all his books are rich with emotion and historical detail. I was thrilled and nervous when Disney sent my manuscript to Ed and stunned when he accepted. I cried.
 
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Well, I cried again. It was amazing to see dear Thomas Paine come alive in Ed’s unique illustrative style. I had spent three years alone with these words and Ed added more emotion and detail to elevate the story beyond my capabilities. And Disney went all out with the jacket cover. I love the bold red color and Lincoln’s sprawling quote on the back. And when you remove the jacket cover there is another bold surprise!
 
Q. How long did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
 A. Almost three years. At 80 pages, THOMAS PAINE is not a typical picture book and was an especially large project to illustrate. I also appreciate that Disney was equally committed to getting the history right. We fact-checked with retired history professor Dr. Jett Conner and went through several rounds of fine-tuning with Disney copyeditors. So including my three years crafting the manuscript, this was a six year journey.
  
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. Always. My achilles heel as a nonfiction writer is that I want to share ALL the good stuff. It pains me to leave tidbits out, but I’m getting better about recognizing that more can be shared in the back matter and school visits. There is a scene in THOMAS PAINE that I cut for word length that I might revisit in another picture book. And one omitted detail still haunts me, which is Captain Death and his ship Terrible were scheduled to leave from Execution Dock. But I’m taking that tidbit with me on school visits to show that fact is often stranger than fiction!
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
 A. Study other successful picture books, especially the ones you love. Outline the story arc and analyze the different components. What angle did the author take in starting the story? How do they introduce character and motivation? Is there a climax or page-turning tension? Is there a theme and how is it revealed? How does the emotional journey change from beginning to end? You don’t have to copy what you learn, just understand the different techniques employed. Don’t be afraid to be a self-taught writer.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here).

I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book is MOST WANTED: JOHN HANCOCK AND SAMUEL ADAMS, a prequel to the history in THOMAS PAINE. This book will span ten years before Common Sense and feature the troublemaking partnership that landed these two men at the top of Britain’s most wanted list. I’m excited to work again with Ed Fotheringham and our team at Disney-Hyperion.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I’m on Twitter at @MsSarahJMarsh, Facebook at @SarahJaneMarshBooks, and my website is www.sarahjanemarsh.com. Thanks for hosting me, Karlin!

WISHING FOR A DRAGON

June 11, 2018

Tags: WISHING FOR A DRAGON, Becky Cameron, Hodder, 2018

Becky Cameron is a graduate of the Cambridge School of Art and the illustrator of PADDINGTON & THE CHRISTMAS VISITOR. And recently her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator was published. Inspired by Becky’s childhood memories of playing with her sisters, WISHING FOR A DRAGON is “a delightful whimsical debut . . . with just the sort of lovely little artistic touches we love to see in picture books” (ReadItDaddy).

Q. You worked as an illustrator before WISHING FOR A DRAGON. 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 knew for a long time that I wanted to illustrate and write my own books for children, it just took me a while to figure out how! It was after some research that I decided the best way to get into children's books was to go back to university so I saved up and completed a Masters in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I learnt a lot in that year and a half about the structure and pacing of books but also about the industry. 

I loved the creative freedom of writing my own narratives on the course and was over the moon that my first deal out of university was for one of my own books (Wishing for Dragon). From there it all just fell into place! I've illustrated other people's texts since and I think it's just a very different experience, I like the process and freedom of writing my own books but equally it can be a joy to help bring someone else's words to life. I think probably I'm still transitioning from illustrator to author-illustrator but I'm doing a lot more writing these days and an evening course on writing for children so hopefully there will be more to come.

Q. Was WISHING FOR A DRAGON 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 actually the third or fourth I'd written, and the least finished when my publisher picked it up. It was very rough around the edges and the illustrations very much informed the text (it was wordless to begin with- gasp!) My editor Emma helped me to restructure it and add more depth.

Q. What inspired WISHING FOR A DRAGON?
A. The imagination of me and my sisters when we were children and the endless games we played together.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I can't count how many titles we went through for this book! Originally it was called "We're off on an Adventure" (quite a mouthful). Then for a long time we referred to it as 'adventure story' and then 'dragon book' and finally, after toying with lots of variations, my editor and I settled on WISHING FOR A DRAGON. I think it was the right choice to have the dragon in the title because he is such a central character.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favourite part is when they finally meet Ella's dragon. I wanted it to be clear as soon as you saw him that he wasn't a scary dragon and I think (I hope!) that comes across in the text and the image.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I probably used an online baby name website. I just went for names that I thought sounded nice together!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. That is a very good question. I'd like to say it was done consciously but the truth is that was just how the story came out when I wrote it. I think because one of the children has this secret wish (to see a dragon) I wanted it to be from her perspective. I think because it was influenced by my childhood memories I probably felt like in a way I was the little girl telling the story and I was right in the action.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WISHING FOR A DRAGON? 
A. Not very much! It was rewritten so many times I don't think much from the first draft has remained in the final book!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I made the pictures first and when my publisher picked it up it was at a very early stage and wordless which I think is quite unusual. To make the text work we had to restructure and look at the text separately before redrawing the rough artwork to fit the pacing of the text. 

Nowadays the text comes to me more at the beginning of the idea process and then the pictures and text sort of develop together as one which I think is probably a better way to do it!

Q. Did WISHING FOR A DRAGON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't because it wasn't submitted as such. I was lucky to meet lots of publishers and agents at my graduation show and had meetings with some of them where I showed them my portfolio and dummy books. A few showed interest in Wishing for a Dragon but were perhaps a bit apprehensive as it was so unfinished. I was very grateful to Emma Layfield at Hodder for putting her trust in me.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WISHING FOR A DRAGON.
A. I did a little dance around the room before composing myself and setting to work on finding an agent! I had no idea what I was doing with contracts so thankfully the publisher was happy to wait for me to find an agent before I signed on the dotted line!

Q. How long did WISHING FOR A DRAGON take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two years. I'm still getting used to how slow this industry is!

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've squeezed all of my favourite things into this book and I don't think I've had to leave anything out.... oh, other than the text originally started with 'We're off on an adventure...' which was then repeated throughout the text which I quite liked!

Q. Did you create any book swag for WISHING FOR A DRAGON? If so, what kind?
A. No book swag but now I'm thinking maybe I should do! Plushy hot air balloons anybody?!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up! Your first, second and third ideas might all be rubbish and get rejections but keep working at it until you hit gold.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Keep making things for yourself. Write for yourself and draw (if that's your thing) for yourself. You never know what new ideas will spring from the little things you're making for pleasure. Even when I have a deadline looming I try to write down new ideas or sketch characters that pop into my head. They might not turn into anything or they might just be your next big story idea.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working with Hodder again on an illustration brief for an exciting book project and I've just submitted a new picture book text to publishers. I've been working on it for some time, fingers crossed it finds a publishing home because I really love it!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.beckycameron.co.uk
@doodleyboo on twitter and instagram
Becky Cameron Illustration on facebook

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

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 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

THE WEAVER

February 5, 2018

Tags: THE WEAVER, Qian Shi, Anderson Press, 2018

Animator and illustrator Qian ('Chen') Shi grew up in Shijiazhuang, a northern city in China. Her short animation Shoe won two awards and she worked as an artist on Tim Burton’s movie “Frankenweenie.” She’s a little bit afraid of spiders but that didn’t stop her from writing her #firstpicturebook THE WEAVER—a “beautiful and wise” (Kirkus Reviews) story that “integrates facts about the natural world with this unusual arachnid adventure (The Irish Times).

Q. Was THE WEAVER 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 Weaver indeed is my first ever picture book manuscript. But the first manuscript I wrote was for an animated short film Shoe, which was completed some year back. Eventually I’d like to adapt this short film into a picture book.
 
Q. What inspired THE WEAVER?
A. The short answer is that I saw a piece of leaf stuck in the middle of a spider web, somehow this scene just got my imagination going. The full answer is that THE WEAVER is a story about what I have been through my life — I’m originally from China and have lived in Norway, Denmark, and the U.K. My life was formed and transformed through all the years of moving around. It hasn’t been the easiest experience, partially due to my ever-growing collection of books, things, and even furniture! Finally, I was quite into the idea of minimalism. Although I have to admit that I would probably never be able to be a minimalist myself, I have given a lot of thought about it. So when I saw this leaf on the spider web, the story of THE WEAVER formed in my head.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title “The Weaver” came sort of naturally when I was already working with my editor Libby (Andersen Press). Stanley the spider is a web weaver, as spiders do, but he also weaves his imagination as a way of creativity. It just felt right to call this book “The Weaver”.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I would say I write by doodling on the paper.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Perhaps it is the first spread—“Every spider leads a life of adventure”—as it sets the key tone of the entire book with spiders flying around holding a piece of leaf or flower. I had been doodling them even before I had the entire story figured out. I knew I wanted something magical and poetic for the story.
 
Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Coming up with a name for the main character was the hardest thing! Both Libby and I had suggested quite a few names to each other. We wanted something catchy, but none of them felt right. So “he the spider” didn’t have a name until the project was almost completed. Then I went to this Stanley Kubrick exhibition and thought—Stanley Kubrick was a collector. He was so creative and did lots of great movies which influenced generations of artists and filmmakers. Stanley works with Spider too!
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person?
A. I didn’t duel on this for very long. It felt natural to tell this story in third person. Stanley didn’t talk in the entire book. His thought process and conflict through the journey is internal, also instinctual. Using first person might make the story too analytical.
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE WEAVER?
A. After I saw the leaf on the spider web, I went on a short train journey. During the 45 minutes on the train, I pretty much thought through the whole story in broad strokes. Then later on, I sat down and figured out a much more fine-tuned story arc.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The story and the image sort of came at the same time. Sometimes certain images come first. I doodled the moments of what the main character Stanley would do when he collects things. The final illustration came a little later, after I had done some more research on plants. If you remember, there was a 100-day challenge on Instagram. I participated in it by drawing plants, flowers and leaves everyday, which was preparation for this project.
 
Q. Did THE WEAVER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, of course. It’s inevitable to get rejections, especially in the beginning. I went to Bologna Children’s Book Fair to present my book idea rather than sending out submissions. During the fair, I got both interest and rejections. But because I’d shown the book idea to so many people within a short amount of time, I also quickly learned that it’s quite subjective whether this publisher/editor/art director likes your idea or not. Each publishing house has their own set of style and lists of interests. Don’t let this make you lose confidence. Always look for feedback and suggestions and consider them. You might pick up some really good ones!
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE WEAVER.
A. YAY FINALLY!
 
Q. How long did THE WEAVER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 1 1/2 years. I’m not used to the turnaround speed as I normally work in advertising/animation which is always in a rush. But it’s incredible to see what goes on behind a printed book. Sometimes things take time and it’s worth waiting.
 
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’m quite lucky. The initial story which I presented was pretty much intact. Throughout the collaboration with my editor and art director, we added a few things, improving the story here and there.
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for THE WEAVER? If so, what kind?
A. I haven’t created book swag but I am thinking about printing wrapping paper with the endpaper designs.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read lots and lots of picture books. Read classic picture books - they’re classic for a reason. You can learn so much from them! And write your story ideas down—even if you’re not 100% sure yet, they might just need some more time to mature.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Once I joined a writing workshop with Barbara Slade who gave us a great advice. First, write down all the things you imagine that could happen in the story. Don’t judge, just write them down. Then once you’ve got enough material, look through them and edit. Use the ones that make sense, put away the ones that don’t work. You can repeat this process a few times, eventually you will get a story that can even surprise you.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Recently I was just finished up a couple of short animation clips for promoting The Weaver (http://www.qianshi.co.uk/illustration.html) And I’m currently exploring the next idea for a picture book!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. My website: www.qianshi.co.uk
Instagram: @qian.shi
Twitter: @qianshi_design
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/QianShi.Illustration/

I LOVE YOU, BUNNY

January 29, 2018

Tags: I LOVE YOU, BUNNY, Alina Surnaite, Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018

Alina Surnaite left Cambridge School of Art with an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration and with a book contract! Like her artistic hero Maurice Sendak, she doesn’t believe in shying away from exploring darker themes. Alina’s #firstpicturebook I LOVE YOU, BUNNY is a bedtime book about overcoming those nighttime fears that all of us have had. Thank you Alina for participating in the Q&A and congrats on your debut!

Q. Did you work as a book illustrator before I LOVE YOU, BUNNY? If so, 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 was studying and making my own picture books. I was fortunate to get an offer for my Master's Project (I Love You, Bunny) when I finished the MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I have been working on a few self-initiated projects illustrating classic children's fiction. It allows me to experiment with techniques and character designs.

Q. Was I LOVE YOU, BUNNY 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 my sixth picture book story. The first one was Little Frog from Trash Kingdom about a young frog's journey outside his pond. It was created during the week-long Summer School at Cambridge School of Art and was very different from my current work. It did receive interest from a few publishers, but Little Frog is now quietly sitting on my shelf with other dummy books.

Q. What inspired I LOVE YOU, BUNNY?
3. My younger self when I used to wake up at dawn, my little sister and her bunny toy, my cat-loving mum and our childhood tabby cat. A handful of other books from different authors also influenced my story, including Komako Sakai, Eileen and Marc Rosenthals and Alexis Deacon. I was also inspired by the dark autumn days in the UK and beautiful sunrises.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The book was titled Morning Monster first, but my publisher and I changed it later.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like this ending scene, which is also part of the cover, with the characters happily reunited and having a well-deserved rest. It was not part of my first draft, but is a much better ending for a bedtime story.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I like simple and short names, such as Suzy. The cat was hunting in the morning mist in my original story so I called her Misty.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. My editor suggested to add a narrator as my original story did not have one and thus could not be read as a bedtime story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I LOVE YOU, BUNNY? 
A. I had an idea of a girl waking up at dawn and discovering night creatures. It slowly developed as I received feedback from my MA tutors and course mates, which I am very grateful for.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I wrote it as a short poem first, then started sketching and storyboarding.

Q. Did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No. The publisher approached me just before the MA Children's Book Illustration degree show with an interest in my Master's Project. 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I LOVE YOU, BUNNY.
11. A lot of excitement with a bit of fear of the unknown. 

Q. How long did I LOVE YOU, BUNNY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two and a half 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 liked the endpapers that were part of my first draft, but were a bit too scary for a bedtime story about the fear of darkness. I am happy with the yellow endpapers and the nice vignettes to start and end the story in the final book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
14. Don't get too precious about your work and never take any critique personally. Seek constructive feedback on your book (such as in SCBWI critique groups, writing retreats, and workshops with industry people), be open to changes, but also know your values and listen to your heart first.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like writing down observations and ideas on my phone whenever something inspires me, sometimes it turns out rhymed, sometimes not. I wish I had a daily writing exercise to practise my writing skills. 
As for marketing, I think that you have to show your voice in your social media posts as well as in your books. It is a new form of storytelling and, ideally, your posts should be adapted for each specific platform, which takes time and practice. Posting regularly helps, even if weekly.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Two very different picture book stories. One is a project about sharing space that I started during the last term of my MA studies. The other one is part of a narrative non-fiction series featuring twin sisters enjoying nature and different seasons.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website: www.alinasurnaite.com
I can also be found here:
www.twitter.com/alinasurnaite
www.instagram.com/alinasurnaite
www.facebook.com/alinasurnaiteillustration
www.alinasurnaite.tumblr.com

Thanks for inviting me for this nice interview on your blog, Karlin!

This is not a Valentine

January 22, 2018

Tags: THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE, Carter Higgins, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Chronicle Books, 2018

Elementary school librarian, book blogger, and Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist Carter Higgins is here today to talk about her #firstpicturebook. The title popped into her head while riding a bus and, from that spark, she created THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE—“A sort of anti-valentine for those who want to show the ones they love they care without being all mushy (or spending any money). (Kirkus Reviews

Q. Was THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE 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 not! The first picture book manuscript I ever wrote is long gone and pretty bad. It was unrefined and uninformed, but it was really good practice material.

Q. What inspired THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE?
A. Kids and how honest they are—even when their truthfulness might feel a little rough around the edges. I thought of the title first, and then figured who might be saying that and why.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I didn't pick it as much as it just landed with a thud in my head. I do remember where I was—getting on a shuttle bus to head to my school fair. It's been a good reminder to always keep your brain open. You never know when a mundane moment might make a spark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Oh, this is tough. One of the most rewarding things about making picture books as an author is that you can be a fan of your own book. Once it leaves your hands, an illustrator works their magic, and the whole thing is ushered by sharp, talented editors and art directors—it's a solid team effort.

My favorite part of the book is the picture on the title page—a moment not reflected in the text at all. A little girl slips her friend a Valentine. That's it. On the next page, before the text begins, we see his reaction to such sweetness. The text, then, becomes his response to her actions—bumbling, awkward, friendly love. The text invoked that visual story for Lucy Ruth Cummins, but (I hope!) she didn't feel at all directed by it. It's such a wonderful surprise of making picture books.
I am so lucky that Lucy is the illustrator of this book. She is so very brilliant and I love her work here so much.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second or third person?
A. This is Not a Valentine is written in second person, which wasn't so much a conscious decision as what felt exactly right for this story—I never even tried it in another point of view. It feels both personal and immediate, and also universal. The reader can take on the feelings of humility and hope that our hero has. You become very invested in his success or failure because you are right there with him. And don't all crushes feel oh-so-immersive? It was a perfect choice for this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE?
A. Not much at all, which was also the joy of writing in second person. It allowed me to figure out who was telling the story, based on who he was talking to.

Q. Did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't, because we only submitted it to my editor at Chronicle Books. She was working on my first book already, and we wanted her to see this one as well.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE.
A. This was the third book I have sold, and the feeling of awe and thankfulness and sheer delight has not changed with each of them. There's nothing like that yes!

Q. How long did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. We received an offer in the spring of 2015, and its publication date is December 26, 2017. Just in time for Valentine's Day!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I'd read everything you can get your hands on. The best picture books are created by people who are true fans of the form.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Turn off the internet!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book with Chronicle Books comes out in March of 2018, Everything You Need for a Treehouse, illustrated by Emily Hughes. It is stunning and I can't wait to share it!

I'm also revising a middle grade novel and working on more picture book ideas. A little momentum always helps.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I blog at Design of the Picture Book: http://www.designofthepicturebook.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram @carterhiggins.

Snow Sisters

January 15, 2018

Tags: SNOW SISTERS, Kerri Kokias, Teagan White, Knopf, 2018

SNOW SISTERS by Kerri Kokias and illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf, 2018)
I have a lot in common with author Kerri Kokias. We both love Shel Silverstein; we both dream about creating store window displays; we both started writing when we became stay-at-home moms; and we both wrote picture books about sisters. But Kerri worked as an ice cream server so she’s way cooler!

In the Northeast, we are getting ready for the next snow storm so it’s perfect timing for Kerri’s #firstpicturebook SNOW SISTERS—“captivating and even surprising” (Publishers Weekly) and “chock-full of ideas for fun on a snowy day” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was SNOW SISTERS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A: Heck no! The first picture book I wrote as an adult hoping to be a published author was called Journey to Dreamland. It’s still available if anyone wants to publish it. I can almost guarantee it would put kids to sleep! And I mean that because I hadn’t yet learned how to develop characters, form a satisfying narrative arc, leave room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, etc. I had a lot to learn about the craft of writing before I got from the stage of being able to string words into a sentence to being a published author. At my count, SNOW SISTERS was my 13th manuscript that I not only wrote but worked consistently to revise.

Q. What inspired SNOW SISTERS?
A: I’ve written about this particular topic on Tara Lazar’s blog. My short answer is SNOW SISTERS is the convergence of three separate ideas. I had been thinking about writing a story in mirrored language for quite some time. One day, I saw a tweet where an editor questioned why there weren’t any books about characters who hated the snow. I thought that the mirrored language structure could work with that concept. After playing around with it for quite a while, I realized I wanted two characters and remembered another long ago story idea I had with two sisters who were opposites. Through the process of writing and revising, the story didn’t end up implementing the ideas in the way I first thought. The sisters aren’t really opposites, they just have their own distinct personalities, which gives them room to connect in unexpected ways. And neither hate the snow, they just interact with it differently. And that specific editor didn’t connect with the story…but someone else did!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A: The title tells what the book is about, fits in with the mirrored structure of the text, and suits the acoustics of the story.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A: Great Question! I think my favorite part is when the sisters physically come together in the end. For most of the story they are separated and each doing their own thing—yet connecting in subtle ways which readers will discover with each reading. But the moment their parallel stories meet really packs a nice emotional punch. And yes, it was in the first draft.

Q. How did you decide whether to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It was easy to decide on third person because I wanted the two sisters to be weighted equally in the story. They are equally the main characters.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SNOW SISTERS?
A: None really. I knew I wanted to tell a story in mirrored language, but the setting, characters, and narrative arc developed over time, and didn’t fully come to life until Teagan White illustrated it. It was both fun and frustrating, but mostly fun, to work the elements of storytelling into so few words and such an exact structure.

Q. Did SNOW SISTERS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A: Yes, SNOW SISTERS received 6 rejections. And you know what? Those publishers wouldn’t have been the right fit for this book. You want to catch that editor/publishing house who share your vision because they are the ones that can help the book to reach it’s full potential.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SNOW SISTERS.
A: I’m not a highly emotive person, so when my agent called me I was very happy but I wasn’t jumping for joy, or crying, or anything. I mostly felt a tremendous sense of relief because I had been working at this for so long and wasn’t going to stop. After the call, I had a bunch of nervous energy because I wanted to wait to tell my family and friends in person. I vacuumed because I couldn’t sit still and it gave me an excuse to bounce off the walls. (Do I know how to celebrate, or what?)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A; More than I expected. This particular book is very illustration driven though, so that might be why. The great bulk of my manuscript was illustration notes because I thought it was best for this particular story to have all of the character development, and the majority of the plot portrayed in the illustrations, rather than with words. I was so grateful when, immediately after making the offer, my editor reached out to ask what kind of artist I was drawn to and to show me some of the people she was thinking of. It was clear we already had a similar vision, but we went back and forth a little bit and the Knopf design team suggested Teagan. I wasn’t familiar with her work so I’m so grateful that the designers at Knopf were.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A: The fist time I saw the sketches I was like, “These are sketches?” They looked like final art to me. I also remember noticing the way that Teagan had so seamlessly worked in so many little details into every single illustration, even in those first sketches.

Q. How long did SNOW SISTERS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A: 33 months.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A: Read picture books. Old ones. New ones. Ones that you love. Ones that you don’t. Join SCBWI and participate in their programming.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A: Yes! Years ago I was at a regional SCBWI retreat where writing coach and editor Kendra Levin shared a guided visualization on meeting your character. It was so outside the logical/analytical way my brain works that I knew I needed a recording. I go back to it again and again, especially when I’m beginning or ending a project, or am stuck on something. Lucky for everyone, it’s available on her website. http://kendracoaching.com

Q. What are you working on now?
A: At this exact moment I’m between writing projects and schooling myself on marketing and publicity. I’m taking some time to work on my public speaking skills and developing school visit curriculum.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
https://www.kerrikokias.com
https://twitter.com/KerriKokias
https://www.facebook.com/kerri.kokias

Learn more about Teagan White at:
www.teaganwhite.com
https://www.instagram.com/teaganwh/
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More information on SNOW SISTERS!
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