What inspired their stories? How did they pick the titles? What did they do when they received an offer on their #firstpicturebook? In this weekly Q&A, writers share their experiences and tips. This week's interview is with JOY KELLER!


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GRANDMOTHER THORN

May 1, 2017

Tags: GRANDMOTHER THORN, Katey Howes, Rebecca Hahn, Ripple Grove Press, August 29, 2017

After spending ten years as a physical therapist specializing in brain injury rehabilitation, Katey Howes turned her attention to becoming a children’s author. She is a team member of All the Wonders website and writes a popular blog, kateywrites. And come August—her #firstpicturebook will be published by Ripple Grove Press! Thank you Katey for giving us a peek into the process:

Q. Was GRANDMOTHER THORN 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’ve written a lot of short stories and poems over the years, but I really began writing picture book manuscripts in 2014, when I decided to quit my job as a physical therapist and focus on a writing career. GRANDMOTHER THORN was the third picture book manuscript I felt was “ready to polish,” though there were dozens of false starts and ideas that never made it to that stage. The first manuscript I felt was polished enough to submit was rejected by a few agents as “too quiet for the market” and sat in a drawer for a few years. I’m reworking it right now with the help of my critique group and agent. And that second manuscript was the beginnings of what is now MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE, which is being published by Sterling in Fall 2017. Back then, I called it Julia Mudd Won’t Wear That Dress. What a difference a few years makes!

Q. What inspired GRANDMOTHER THORN?
A. Great question! I have a small yard here in New Jersey, especially when compared to the open space I was accustomed to when I lived in the Midwest. To make the most of it, my husband and I planted raspberry and blackberry bushes in a narrow, sandy garden bed (about 18 inches wide and 6 feet long) between the back wall of the house and the stone patio. Well, the bushes must have liked it, because they grew like crazy! In a little over a year, the blackberry bush stretched almost 13 feet tall, and the raspberry bushes were trying to take over my patio. In an epic attempt to battle them into submission against a trellis, I got poked by one thorn too many and yelled “sooner or later, everything meets its match!” I was not entirely sure whether I was talking about the bush, or myself, but the idea for GRANDMOTHER THORN took root in that moment.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I knew the theme I wanted for the book early on – but not where or when it would be set, or even a lot about the main characters. I wrote it many different ways, draping settings and voices around my theme to see what fit best. When I set it in a small Japanese village, inspired by the artistry of Japanese gardens, Grandmother Thorn practically wrote herself into the tale. I knew very quickly that her struggle and growth would be the heart of the story, and therefore the title.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the image of Grandmother Thorn as she follows her one friend, Ojiisan, along the pebbled path from her door, smoothing out stones disrupted by his twisted foot. This early glimpse into her need for order, and her willingness to allow order to be disrupted – for a short time – for the sake of her friend, has always seemed poignant to me. The detail was not part of early drafts, but evolved over time as I changed the characters slightly to both challenge and complement one another.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. At first, I wanted to use Japanese names for the characters – perhaps something that would literally translate to “Grandmother Thorn” and “Limping Man.” Our fairy tales and folk tales have such a tradition of these type of names – like Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, for example - and I felt it would lend to the folktale tone. After several conversations with native speakers of Japanese, hearing their thoughts on how the translations could be misconstrued, and realizing that for the average picture book reader they might also be difficult to pronounce, I decided to use names that would be simpler and easy to say.

Q. How did you decide whether to tell the story in first or third person?
A. I never considered writing this story in first person, as I really wanted to be able to look in on Grandmother’s world from the outside.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GRANDMOTHER THORN?
A. As I mentioned before, I knew the theme I wanted to explore – that of balancing chaos and control - and the vehicle – a garden – that I wanted to use to create the story. But the specific characters and twists and turns of the plot evolved through a lot of exploration and many very different drafts.

Q. Did GRANDMOTHER THORN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh, yes! I received at least ten very nice rejection letters for GRANDMOTHER THORN before getting the incredibly exciting call from Rob Broder of Ripple Grove Press. Most of the rejections claimed to love the lyricism and symbolism of the story, but said that it would be a tough sell in the current market because it was “quiet.” Several agents who read GRANDMOTHER THORN asked to see other works from me.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GRANDMOTHER THORN.
A. I was pretty much in shock! I was actually out on my back patio, right next to the devilish berry bushes that started it all, when I received the call from Ripple Grove Press. Rob Broder told me that they had read the manuscript “at least a dozen times” and never grew tired of it, and that that was the quality they looked for in books they made. I remember getting teary-eyed as I realized that someone else connected with GRANDMOTHER THORN the way I did.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Ripple Grove Press is wonderful in the way they respect the artistic vision of both the author and the illustrator. I was asked to provide links to images or portfolios that represented my vision of the book. Once the illustrator was selected, she took some time to build her own vision, and then asked if there were any images that had influenced me. I was able to share with her pictures of my berry bushes, as well as tell her how traditional woodblock prints (called ukiyo-e) by Japanese artist Hokusai helped me envision the story’s Shizuku village.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first glimpses of the illustrations blew me away. The intricacy of Rebecca Hahn’s work, and the way that she brought the garden to life – almost as a character in its own right – made my heart leap.

Q. How long did GRANDMOTHER THORN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. All told, it will be about 30 months to publication.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I constantly write ideas – whether it’s for a plot, a character name, a funny line of dialogue – on sticky notes and stick them up on the side of my bookcase next to my desk. When I feel stumped or blocked or uninspired, I grab a note – or maybe 2 or 3 – and see what I can make of them in 15 minutes.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m revising a rhyming picture book manuscript and a middle grade novel, as well as drafting a picture book full of mythological creatures.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My author website is a great place to start: www.kateyhowes.com! I’m active on Twitter @kateywrites and on Instagram @kidlitlove. You’ll also find me at All The Wonders, where I help readers journey beyond the book, and as a member of Picture the Books, a website featuring authors with 2017 debut picture books.

SALAD PIE

January 30, 2017

Tags: SALAD PIE, Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo, Ripple Grove Press, 2016

A contractor for an educational research foundation and a global relocation company, Wendy BooydeGraaff is also the author of a book which has inspired several children to go outside, pick up shiny gum wrappers at the park, and add them to a pretend pie. Today she talks to us about her #firstpicturebook SALAD PIE—“a fine addition to collections in need of imaginative friendship tales” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was SALAD 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, I wrote many things before SALAD PIE, and the first picture book manuscript I wrote and sent out was about the ubiquitous story line of a new sibling, so while I still think the manuscript is cute, it’s locked away in my files.

Q. What inspired SALAD PIE?
A. My creative and imaginative daughter, when she was two years old, going on three.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This is one of those times when the title came first, and then the story. My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Well, let me answer that creatively. In the first drafts, the ending was different. I had Herbert sitting down to enjoy Salad Pie with Maggie, and then he forgot to pretend to eat the pretend pie. He took a real bite of leaves and gum wrapper and crab apple, which I thought was quite funny and ironic (especially to adults). I agreed to change the ending for Ripple Grove Press, and I think it is a much better ending for this story, and it now highlights Maggie’s acceptance of Herbert and his ideas for their next playdate.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The names Maggie and Herbert are right there in my first handwritten draft. They just seemed like the right names that fit the characters; my subconcious chose them.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Third person allows the reader to see the actions of Maggie and Herbert and make their own judgements.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SALAD PIE? 
A. The entire story came out in the first draft. After that, it took many readings and critique group meetings to make sure the story was saying what I thought it did. That’s always the trick of writing for me: to make sure I’m saying what I think I’m saying.

Q. Did SALAD PIE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, I had some rejections but the number is locked in a secret vault. ;)

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SALAD PIE.
A. Well, Ripple Grove Press had my manuscript for eight or nine months. I had politely nudged them twice at three-to-four month intervals to determine the status of SALAD PIE, and both times they asked for a little more time. Then I came back from a short vacation and heard the message on my home phone that they wanted to talk to me. I started getting excited, and sure enough, when I called back, Rob said they wanted to publish SALAD PIE. There were very few edits, mainly the ending, which he told me about before I signed the contract. Then we went over the manuscript a few more times, especially after the initial sketches were in, to make it perfect.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. They asked for input, so I sent some ideas of illustrator styles, but they chose the illustrator, Bryan Langdo.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first illustration I saw was a character sketch of Maggie with her curly hair (which I loved because I have very curly hair) and puddle jumper boots. I thought her fun-loving, inventive personality was captured perfectly. The cover shows Maggie overjoyed with her invention, and Herbert in the background. I’m very happy with it.

Q. How long did SALAD PIE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just under two years.The verbal offer was in June of 2014, the contract was signed eight days later, and SALAD PIE was released on March 1, 2016.

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’ve read this book aloud in book stores, on Skype visits, in real classrooms, and I don’t have any words or punctuation I want to change. This is surprising, because I am a nitpick, but also a tribute to Ripple Grove Press’s process, which was very careful and not rushed.

Q. When you do readings of SALAD PIE which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Invariably, when Maggie and Salad Pie tumble down, down, down the slide…and I turn the page and—nope, I’m not going to tell you. You have to read the book! But at readings, I always get a reaction.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Spend lots of time thinking about the words you write, rereading them and making sure they really are the words that are telling the story in the best way possible.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. There are many writing exercises that I love, but I think my favourite stems from people-watching. Sit on a bench somewhere and watch the people who pass. Ask questions about them. Where are they going? What job do they do? Once you see someone that sparks your imagination, gather in as many details as possible about that person and then write. Make up everything you don’t know, from where they live to what books they read. It doesn’t matter if that person leaves—maybe it’s even better—because now you are in the realm of fiction, using your imagination to springboard there.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on more picture books and a middle grade manuscript.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
website: http://www.wendybooydegraaff.com/
Read about many other picture book authors and illustrators at On the Scene in 2016: https://onthescenein2016.wordpress.com/
Connect and share your favorite outdoorsy books on:
@BooyTweets: https://twitter.com/BooyTweets
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wbooydegraaff/salad-pie/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14531750.Wendy_BooydeGraaff.

THE PEDDLER'S BED

July 11, 2016

Tags: THE PEDDLER'S BED, Lauri Fortino, Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press, 2015

Library Assistant Lauri Fortino is a strong supporter of library and literacy initiatives and the creator of Frog On A Blog, a forum for writers and fans of children’s picture books to share their views on all-things picture books. But today she shares the story of how she created her first picture book, THE PEDDLER'S BED—"a quirky little tale that expresses the core message of kindness and hospitality, sharing what you have with others, no matter how humble or how fine" (Midwest Book Review).

Q. Was THE PEDDLER'S BED 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 have written several picture book manuscripts, both before and after The Peddler’s Bed. My first picture book story was called Freddy Bear Goes Here and There, which I completed while taking a children’s writer’s course back in 2005. The story has gone through several revisions and title changes (and rejections) since then. I just recently dug it out again for even more revisions. It’s barely recognizable now as the story I wrote over ten years ago.

Q. What inspired THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. My inspiration for THE PEDDLER’S BED came from a sense of gratitude I felt toward family and friends for their generosity. When my husband and I first got married, much of our furniture was given to us, including our bed. The story is all about kindness and generosity and I really feel the world could use more of both.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title just came to me when I knew the story was going to be about a peddler who tries to sell a bed. The title for The peddler’s bed never changed.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the little man’s dog Happy. He was in the story from the beginning. I’m pretty sure my dog influenced my decision to include a canine companion in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. At the time, I was writing all of my stories in third person and hadn’t considered anything else. I’ve become more comfortable experimenting with different points of view now. I’m even working on a story that breaks the fourth wall.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE PEDDLER'S BED? 
A. I had a rough idea of what the story was about, how it would begin, and how I wanted it to end. But my plot was disjointed. I had to work on connecting the dots from beginning to end in a way that made sense.

Q. Did THE PEDDLER'S BED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Before sending the manuscript to Ripple Grove Press, I had sent it out only twice, and received back two rejections.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE PEDDLER'S BED.
A. There was a message on my answering machine when I arrived home from work (I work at my local public library) from Rob Broder, president and founder of Ripple Grove Press, saying he’s interested in THE PEDDLER’S BED and to call him to discuss a possible contract. Well, I must have replayed the message at least four or five times to be sure I was hearing correctly. Needless to say, I was thrilled!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Rob and I discussed illustration style and he asked me to name a few books with styles that I thought were a good fit for the story. We seemed to be in agreement about what direction to take the art. Then Rob contacted Bong Redila to see if he’d be interested in illustrating the book. I’m super pleased with Bong’s illustrations. They’re so colorful and unique.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the peddler’s cart looked very different from what I had envisioned. But that was perfectly okay. I loved the sketches! It’s fascinating to see how an illustrator takes your words and ideas and brings them to life.

Q. How long did THE PEDDLER'S BED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I signed the contract October 31, 2013 and the publication date was September 1, 2015, so nearly two years. But I received my author copies in April of 2015.

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’m sure there’d be a lot of things I’d change if I picked it apart, but I try not to do that. As writers, our inner editors are always talking, making us believe what we’ve written isn’t ready, finished, or good enough. Sometimes you just have to put him/her on mute and let it go.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE PEDDLER'S BED?
A. This isn’t from letters, but from talking to the kids about the book after I’ve read it. The book ends with the little man asleep on the bed on his front porch. I like to ask the kids how they think the little man will get the bed inside the house. One child said he’d prop open the roof and lower it down. You can’t beat the ingenuity of kids.

Q. When you do readings of THE PEDDLER'S BED which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. What gets the best reaction actually happens before I read the book. Because there is a dog in the story, I like to share a picture of my dog with the kids. I show them a blown up picture of my dog with crazy, static-zapped, fly-away hair and tell the kids he was having a bad hair day. They love it!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read bunches of picture books, especially new ones! Go to the library and raid their New Picture Book shelves. If you want to get published the traditional way, it’s important to really get a feel for the format and a clearer picture of what publishers are publishing and what’s selling in the current market. That said, don’t try to copy what others have done. Create something new. Write the stories that only you can write.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on several picture book manuscripts as well as a children’s chapter book. My goal this year is to find a literary agent to represent my work.
To learn more about Lauri, visit her website

MAE AND THE MOON

June 27, 2016

Tags: MAE AND THE MOON, Jami Gigot, Ripple Grove Press

Digital Artist Jami Gigot has worked on films such as Avatar, Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Captain America. But today, she is telling us the story of how she created her first picture book, MAE AND THE MOON—"a sweet, quiet story suitable for a cozy bedtime reading" (School Library Journal).

Q. Was MAE AND THE MOON 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 had been writing several Shel Silverstein-style silly poems and wanted to do something with them, so I took a continuing education class in Picture Book Illustration at Emily Carr University. MAE AND THE MOON was an idea I started to develop while I was taking the course. It was the first picture book manuscript I wrote.

Q. What inspired MAE AND THE MOON?
A. As a toddler, my daughter was completely fascinated with the moon and we would play a game where we would try to spot it. One evening she said, "The moon is following us!" That single phrase started me writing.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. At first the project started as a poem called, "The Moon is Following Me." Ripple Grove Press loved the idea but didn't love the rhyme, so I rewrote the manuscript in a more traditional narrative style. In the poem the protagonist spoke in the first person and did not have a name. But, the character was always inspired by my daughter, and I was in fact drawing a stylized version of her. I toyed with the idea of having the character be called "the little girl", but in the end, I decided to go ahead and use my daughter's name, Mae. Hence, MAE AND THE MOON became the title.

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 the wordless page where she gives the moon a full body hug. This was not in the first draft at all. In the first draft Mae gets angry when the moon doesn't answer her, and when the moon disappears, she thinks she scared it away. This is very different from where the story ended up. The final draft has a much more imaginative tone with her journeying to space to find the moon.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. As I mentioned, Mae is actually my daughter's name and this character is loosely based on her. The dog character is completely made up and not based on a real dog. My publisher started calling the dog Luna, which is how we referred to her throughout the process, although her name is never mentioned in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I tried different variations and this seemed to have the nicest tone.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MAE AND THE MOON?
A. Only the very basic premise really. I knew a little girl would have a playful relationship with the moon, and would feel upset when it disappeared. It evolved from there. I often write several drafts of my stories and they tend to evolve into something that I hadn't necessarily thought about from the beginning.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. For MAE AND THE MOON, I wrote the initial poem that the story evolved from first. Very quickly though, I started doing character sketches, and creating a dummy book. Generally in my process, the images and text are linked from the beginning. I’ll have a draft of a manuscript next to character sketches in my sketchbook, and I’ll start making thumbnail storyboards pretty early on. Slowly things evolve to be more organized as I make revisions and work things out.

Q. Did MAE AND THE MOON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I sent it to around ten places, and I received rejections from four of those, and no responses from several. Then I got a call from Ripple Grove Press and the discussions started.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MAE AND THE MOON.
I was over the moon of course!

Q. How long did MAE AND THE MOON take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year for me to finish the book from the time of offer, and then another eight months or so before it hit shelves. During the process of making this book, I was also working full time as a digital film artist, and I'm a mother of two, so it was a lot of late nights. Despite the lack of sleep, I absolutely loved the entire experience of making this book. It truly is my passion to make picture books, and I learned so much along the way.

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 am still very much learning and honing my craft as both a writer and illustrator. That being said, I think that this book represents me at this moment in my career, and because the character is based on my daughter it will always be incredibly special to me. Rather than think about what I would change, I prefer to take what I learned and put that into my next project.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about MAE AND THE MOON?
A. One of my favorites is the question "How does she breathe in outer space?" Or, "Is that a pot on her head?"

Q. When you do readings of MAE AND THE MOON, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The wordless pages are very fun because it gives a great opportunity for the kids to get involved. I like to open it up and let the kids tell me what's happening in the book.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If this is your passion, keep at it! The children's writing community is absolutely amazing and supportive. Find a good critique group and work hard on your revisions and/or art, and be open to constructive criticism.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am currently working on a project I am really excited about. It's a companion book for MAE AND THE MOON entitled SEB AND THE SUN. This one is for my son, Sebastien. It will have a similar look and vibe to MAE AND THE MOON, but is quite different, and brings many new challenges.

To learn more about Jami Gigot, visit her website.