My #FirstPictureBook

LOVELY

September 11, 2017

Tags: LOVELY, Jess Hong, Creston Books, October 1, 2017

Fresh out of art school, Jess Hong attended a book fair and showed her book dummy to Marissa Moss, an editor at Creston Books. The result was her #firstpicturebook which will be available October 1. Today she tells us how LOVELY—“a lively ode to being different” (The New York Times Book Review)—came to be.

Q. Was LOVELY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. LOVELY is the first picture book I ever wrote or illustrated. It’s really surreal to see this project come into fruition!

Q. What inspired LOVELY?
A. The idea of making a conceptual children’s book always interested me, and I wanted the message of it to be inclusive and positive. The message is simply everyone is different and that is lovely. There are all kinds of people in this world, with an ever growing spectrum of differences. I think it’s important for kids to be able to learn that at a young age. It went through many changes and fine tuning but I’m very happy with where the book has landed.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I wanted a variation of the word “beautiful”.  “Lovely” felt more descriptive and enrapturing of a person as a whole.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote most of this book on post it notes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like one of the spreads that features unique legs and feet. The idea was in the first draft, but the components and surprises in it were developed over the whole process.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Since it isn’t a traditional story and more of a concept book it felt right to me for the overall tone.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing LOVELY? 
A. I had a super clear idea but a lot of the components of the book really was a gradual process. Things were added in all the way up to the end.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I wrote a pretty loose version of the story first. I had some clear “opposite” concepts I really wanted to illustrate so I created those first and then made the story work around those. A lot of the pages were also open to interpretation illustration wise, so it was a fun journey figuring it all out.

Q. Did LOVELY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky enough to meet my editor (Marissa Moss of Creston Books) at a book fair the summer I graduated art school. I had literally just finished the dummy and it all worked out quite serendipitously.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY.
A. Joy and elation. Slight shrieking. Frantic texting to share the news.

Q. How long did LOVELY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About 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’m actually quite happy I didn’t have to edit out anything! I ended up adding and changing the story a lot throughout the whole process, and I had an amazing support system of my publishing team, teachers, and fellow children’s book illustrators and authors as a sounding board.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I spent a long time just immersing myself into the world of children’s books and picking up ideas and inspiration. It gave me a great starting point and helped me understand what would work for my book.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I met my editor at a book fair. My tip is to get out there and show people your work whenever you can. You never know who will be there and what kind of connections you can make.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m a full time illustrator at Papyrus. My day job and freelancing on the side is keeping me on my toes these days. 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Website: http://www.jesshong.net/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jesshongdraws/

HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP

October 3, 2016

Tags: HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP, Robin Newman, Chris Ewald, Creston Books

Former attorney and legal editor, Robin Newman prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She’s the author of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and has two books coming out in 2017—The Case of the Poached Egg, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books) and No Peacocks! Illustrated by Chris Ewald (Sky Pony Press). But today she shares her recipe for brewing up her first picture book, HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP—"A witch's search for a good night's sleep results in numerous run-ins with nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters in this entertaining story from Newman (The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake) and newcomer Ewald. Publishers Weekly

Q. Was HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Far from it! The first picture book that I wrote was about two sophisticated and somewhat snooty city cats who unfortunately get a country dog as a houseguest. Quite honestly, it wasn’t very good and not much came of the story.

Q. What inspired HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP?
A. Hildie BItterpickles Needs Her Sleep was inspired by a neighbor’s witch weathervane.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I played around with the title a lot. Some previous titles were: “There’s No Place Like Home,” “The Witches and The Real Estate Agent,” and “Shhh! Don’t Wake the Witch!” Originally, the story was about three witches, Hildie, Marge and Blanche. But the story was dialogue heavy with three witches. Once I narrowed the story down to one witch, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep just seemed like a good fit.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hands down it’s the classified ads in The Daily Witch. The classified ads were not part of that first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Food seems to seep into a number of my writings and I was playing around with the idea of what would you call a cranky, bitter witch in a pickle. Hence, the creation of Bitterpickles. For Hildie’s cat, I came up with Clawdia. What else would a witch’s cat be called? And Monty seemed to suit the personality of a slick real estate agent who happened to be a rat.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I like that you can confide facts to the reader with a third person narrator. The story also never felt like it should be written in the first person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP? 
A. I knew I wanted to write a book about a witch with some real estate/neighbor-relation problems. But exactly what that was took some time to flush out.

Q. Did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I think I received one or two rejections. And I remember one of the rejections arrived long after I had already signed the contract with Creston Books. It was for a very early draft of the story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP.
A. Words can’t describe it! I think I may have cried. It was definitely up there with passing the bar exam and finishing my first marathon.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor and publisher had asked me my thoughts about Chris Ewald. I loved his work. He is AMAZINGLY talented.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Wow! The illustrations were incredible. They were so much better than anything I could have ever imagined. I had never pictured Hildie as a child. I imagined her as a green cranky old witch. I’m so glad Chris had a very different vision of Hildie. And I love that Chris’ sense of humor also comes out in all of the illustrations. He has an incredible eye for detail.

Q. How long did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about two years (I think). It was originally scheduled to come out before THE CASE OF THE MISSING CARROT CAKE but the schedules got flipped.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I love the book. I was tweaking and re-tweaking the text to the very end. I’m thrilled with the final result.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP?
A. One of the very best things about being a children’s book author is getting mail from kids. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE their letters. I save each and every one. Last year I Skyped with a school in Indiana for World Read Aloud Day and after reading Hildie and doing a q&a, my dog, Madeleine, made an appearance. She was extremely popular with the kids, as you can see by the letters below:
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for skyping with us. I loved your book and your dog."
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for being nice and wearing your witch hat. The book you read was awesome. Your witch hat was awesome too and your dog was cute."

Q. When you do readings of HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids really enjoy spotting all of the fairy tale characters that are included in the illustrations. (As I told you, Chris Ewald is amazing!)


Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read. Write. Rinse and repeat.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I spend a lot of time on character development. I do character studies for all my characters (even if they’re just quick notes) and try to come up with a minimum of four or five traits.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m currently working on a bunch of picture books and rewrites. Stay tuned for details.

Karlin, Many thanks for taking the time to interview me. Wonderful questions. All the very best and much continued success with your writing.

Learn more about Robin Newman and her books:
Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com 
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049
Link to the book trailer: https://youtu.be/WDvzxiV0OwE