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.