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Q&A Blog

THE LOST BOOK

“Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.”

—Margarita Surnaite

 

While studying illustration at Cambridge School of Art, Margarita Surnaite drew a sketch of a rabbit that caught her instructor’s attention. Margarita started to build a story around that rabbit and today it is the star of her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator. Published by Andersen Press, THE LOST BOOK is a "lovely book [that] embeds a message about the importance of reading and the issue of overuse of technology in an appealing fantasy adventure.... An excellent read-aloud choice" (starred review, School Library Journal).

 
Q. Was THE LOST BOOK 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, it wasn't. My first picture book that I showed to publishers was called "Different" and it was my Bachelor's degree final project. I submitted it to Nami Concours, an international children's book illustration competition held in Korea, and it won an award. This gave me confidence that picture book making might be the right path for me. When I created this project, I knew very little about the picture book market. The book turned out very experimental and dark so eventually I decided to shelve it.

 

Q. What inspired THE LOST BOOK?

A. One day, during my MA Children's Book Illustration studies, I was presenting new book ideas. What caught my tutor's attention, however, was a sketch of a rabbit holding a book and sitting next to people looking at their phones. I realized that this sketch had the potential to turn into a story, so I started developing the rabbit character and building the world around him. It's amusing to think that "The Lost Book" wouldn't exist today if my tutor hadn't brought my attention to that sketch.

 

Whether intentionally or not, my stories almost always originate from my observations or personal experiences. While developing "The Lost Book", I became very aware how distracted people have become, especially due to their digital devices. The scenes of the human world in "The Lost Book" were influenced by my experience of visiting London. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I came up with this title early on. I made a list of potential titles, but "The Lost Book" seemed like the best choice to me. I liked that this title could have a literal and metaphorical meaning, which was fitting for the story. I'm glad that my publisher decided to keep it.

 

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

A. I write and draw both ways. I brainstorm ideas and develop my characters on paper and then create finished dummy books on the computer. While I'm working on a dummy book, I like to print out sheets with thumbnail-sized spreads and make edits with a pencil. I make new printouts with each round of revisions. I also print out, cut, and glue together mini dummy books to check how the pacing and page turns work. I always keep a notebook around that I use for messy drafting and problem solving of my stories. 

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. The spread with the escalator scene is probably one of my favorites. It was already in the first draft. 

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. I chose my main character's name "Henry" spontaneously. I can't remember when and why I decided to name him that, but for some reason it felt right.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?  

A. In my first dummy book the story was told in first person. But a year later, I revised the story and wrote it in third person instead. I wanted to use more than one point of view.

 

Q. Why did you write THE LOST BOOK in past tense?

A. It felt natural to tell the story in past tense.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I started by developing my characters first. I drew them over and over again until I had some idea of who they are, what they want, and what kind of world they live in. Then I began to piece the story together by making a storyboard. 

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. The images appeared first. I figured out most of the story through sketching and storyboarding. Words came later in the process.

 

Q. Did THE LOST BOOK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. Yes, a few. I didn't actively submit to publishers though. As an MA Children's Book Illustration student, I got to exhibit "The Lost Book" at the graduation show in London and at the Cambridge School of Art stand during Bologna Children's Book Fair, which were attended by industry professionals. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE LOST BOOK.

A. I got the offer on December 22 so it felt like receiving an early Christmas gift. I was very excited but also slightly worried about all the work and creative challenges waiting ahead of me in order to complete this book. 

 

Q. How long did THE LOST BOOK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. I received the contract at the beginning of 2017 and the book came out in 2019. It took over two years. However, I started developing the story in autumn 2014.

 

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. Luckily, the majority of the story stayed the same. I had to take out one spread because the dummy book was longer than 32 pages. However, I am happy with the changes that my editor suggested. 

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE LOST BOOK? If so, what kind?

A. I made some bookmarks and a book trailer. 

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. It sounds cliché, but read as many picture books as you can. I was skeptical hearing this advice over and over again from different picture book writers. In the past year, however, I finally started to understand its importance. Reading picture books is key to learning the craft of picture book making.

Don't read picture books just for pleasure. Study them. Read them silently. Read them aloud. Analyze them inside out: the text, the illustrations, the design choices, the plot structures, etc. Ask yourself what makes them work and what doesn't. Read a wide range of picture books such as classics, award-winning, bestselling and newly released books. Explore books in genres, subjects, and styles that usually don't appeal to you. 

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. When I read picture books, I'm naturally more drawn to images than text. Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I'm working on my second author-illustrated picture book. Publication is planned for 2021. I'm also developing new picture book stories to query literary agents this year.  

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

Website: www.margaritasurnaite.com

Instagram: @margaritasurnaite

Twitter: @msurnaite

Book trailer for THE LOST BOOK

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MIRA'S CURLY HAIR

MIRA'S CURLY HAIR By Maryam al Serkal and illustrated by Rebeca Luciani (Lantana Publishing, April 2019)

“If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course.

It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche.”

 

Dubai writer Maryam Al Serkal was inspired by her daughter’s feelings about her curly hair.  After attending a children's book workshop, she wrote her #firstpicturebook manuscript. Next month, that story will be published by Lantana Publishing. MIRA’S CURLY HAIR "does a lovely job weaving in various cultural realities with a universal theme of self-acceptance.... [and] adds depth and beauty to the growing collection of hair-themed picture books for the very young" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was MIRA'S CURLY HAIR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. In fact yes, this was the first manuscript that I ever wrote. I attended a children's book workshop at a literature festival and at the end of the workshop the participants were asked to produce a piece of writing and that was the birth of my manuscript.

 

Q. What inspired MIRA'S CURLY HAIR?

A. I like writing about things that are relevant to me. MIRA'S CURLY HAIR is about my daughter and how, at a very young age, she started to notice the differences in appearance she had with other people. The most significant to her was her hair.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. Mira is my daughter's name and I wanted the title to be straight forward as the book is.

 

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

A. I love to write by hand but sometimes the handiest thing at my disposal would be the notes app on my phone. It's easier to continue the flow of work when I don't have to retype everything on my computer, the app is synced to my devices which gives me a seamless flow of work.

 

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.)

My favorite part is when Mira realizes that her hair is not as different as she thought.

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. The main character is Mira, after my daughter, and then her mother is referred to as Mommy.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?  

A. I felt that writing this story in third person could make it more relatable to the reader and listener.

 

Q. Why did you write MIRA'S CURLY HAIR in the past tense?

A. There is a level of dissatisfaction that the main character has with her appearance, I wanted the reader to feel that this was in the past but eventually it was going to change which it did at the end of the story. 

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I had a pretty good idea of what the ending of the story would be. I initially wrote it as a rhyme. I eventually diluted the rhyming a bit but I find that my writing flows easily when writing poetry. I love writing poetry. My favorite children's author is Dr. Seuss. I also think it's tricky to write poetry for kids because it either seems forced or not very rhythmical. Personally, it's a challenge that I enjoy.

 

Q. Did MIRA'S CURLY HAIR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. I didn't receive any rejection letters for Mira's Curly Hair. I guess I was lucky!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MIRA'S CURLY HAIR.

A. It really is indescribable. I was very nervous when I sent in my manuscript. I was hopeful but had resolved to manage my expectations and try to handle the rejection in a way that would push me forward. To be very honest I was at a very challenging time in my life and when I received the offer I was thrilled. It gave me a sense of achievement. 

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?

A. Rebeca Luciani, the illustrator, was suggested by my editor and after I saw her initial drawings, I knew that she was the only one who could bring the story to life.

 

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 how well Rebeca had captured Mira with her mischievous look. It spoke to my heart. She also captures the essence of the Arabian culture without making it overbearing.

 

Q. How long was the publication process for MIRA'S CURLY HAIR  from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. I would say it took over a year and a half.

 

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 would have liked to keep it in rhyme, but I have full faith in my editor and what she sees as fitting better in the current children's book market.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course. It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche. 

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a few more children's books manuscripts that I am working on.

  
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

www.themaryamwrites.com
My Twitter and Instagram account is @themaryamwrites.

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WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? By Puck Koper (Two Hoots, Macmillan, April 2019)

“I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy.

So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.”

 

Illustrator Puck Koper lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the most Dutch street you can imagine—complete with sailing boats, drawbridges, and a windmill. Inspired by her childhood visits to department stores, Puck created her #firstpicturebook WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? which includes some extra storylines for observant readers. 

 
Q. Was WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? 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 it was! It is my very first book. It was my graduation project for the Master Children's Book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art in the UK. And at that time the story didn't have any text. Which was quite hard, having to tell the story with just pictures. But later when it got picked up, my publisher and I decided to give the story text. And I am really pleased we did! 

 

Q. What inspired WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

A. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She lives in the city centre of Rotterdam and we would always go shopping. Just like the twins in my book, I would stand on the escalator, without being able to look over the edge. And one of the spreads in the book, shows the shoe department, that was my favorite place as a child. You wouldn't believe how happy I was when I finally fit into the smallest women sized shoes! You could leave me there for hours. 

Since then I've always had a fascination for department stores. It's the best place for people watching, one of my favourite pastimes. While working on the book I spent a lot of time in John Lewis in Cambridge. The perfume department is the best place to observe fancy ladies in their natural habitat. It was hard to not put everyone I saw into my book. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. At the time of my Master, when the book didn't have text yet, I was struggling with one page—the page where Mum discovers that Harriet is not behind her anymore. Because I felt it needed the text: "Where is your sister?" But it being a wordless book, that was a bit of a difficulty. I discussed it on a walk along the river Cam with my dear friend Angela. And she suggested, why don't you make that the title. And after that I never changed it, it just fit.

 

Q. Do you draw by hand or on the computer?

A. I make all my drawings by hand. I fill sketchbook after sketchbook and wouldn't even know how to draw directly with the computer. However, I do use the computer to colour my artwork. While working on this book on the course, I was planning to screen print the illustrations. But by using the computer, I've found a way to skip some steps in the screen printing process. A great way to get the feel of a screen print, but it saves a lot of time and is easier to edit. 

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?

A. Oh, that is a really tough question! I had so much fun making this book! Coming up with this whole store, all the departments, and especially all the people in the shop. If I had to choose it might be the endpapers. While I used to dream about my own very own picture book, the endpapers always felt as the most exciting part! And making these endpapers was maybe the most fun of all. I think it's because it's the last thing I made and it finishes the book perfectly, they make it a real book. They feature all the people you can spot in the book. And on the last endpaper, they're all on their way home, with their shopping bags. I've added a couple of extra storylines for the observant readers. For example, there's a thief in the store you can follow. I wanted to make a book you can read more than once, and really hope that every time you read it, you notice something new. 

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  

A. The story is told by Harriet's sister. I really like it when books are written from the perspective of the child. And I loved to give this book an extra layer. I think her comments make that it's not just a simple chase through the store. 

 

Q. Why did you write WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? in present tense?

A. My book is written in present tense, for me that's the only way it can be told. It really adds to the excitement in the book.

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. Most of my stories are created while drawing, with playing around on the paper. Drawing different characters is something I have done since I was very little. And while drawing them, I get to know them and figure out their story. I really like to make projects and books about everyday life, the day to day things we all struggle with or enjoy. So I get a lot of inspiration from my own life or stories from other people.

 

Q. Did WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No, it didn't. Quite the opposite actually! When I presented the book on the Master's graduation show I got so many interest that I had to turn down quite a lot of publishers when I chose Two Hoots, Macmillan. I still can't believe it! Those weeks, having the show, all the stress and all the love. It was incredible.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHERE IS YOUR SISTER?

A. I was over the moon! I couldn't believe anyone wanted to publish my book. It was on my way to the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy, two years ago. And I had the most amazing week, knowing that very soon my book will be among all those incredible books!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? — from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. It took quite some time. Which is very normal in the publishing world. But I think it also had to do with the fact that this is my first book. It was all new to me. I worked and reworked the story for about a year. While in the meantime moving back home to Rotterdam, after living in the UK for almost 2 years. The whole process of planning, storyboarding and sketching was quite long. But the actual finished illustrations just took me a couple of weeks. And they were the most amazing weeks, just doing what I love most, having everything thought out already. When I just had to do it. It felt incredible!

 

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. Working on a book like this takes time, which means I made so many drawings that didn't end up in the book at all. I've got illustrations to fill 5 books. But that's how it works. I did have to kill some darlings, but just because there are not enough spreads to show them all. 

 

Q. When you read WHERE IS YOUR SISTER? to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. There is a part in the book where mum screams “HARRRRIET!” which everyone loved at the graduation show.

But because the book isn't out yet, I haven't had the chance to read it to children. When you think about it, it's quite funny how only adults are involved in the process of making a picture book. I look forward to having kids myself, so I can test my ideas in the middle of the process and get inspired by how they see the world.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. Instagram, it's an incredible tool, to show your work and to get inspired. Don't be afraid to post stuff! Which is something I am saying as much to myself as to you, haha!

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. At the moment, I am working on two new books, a series of screen prints, and lots of exciting new things. My next book is about a boy that's moving to a block of flats. 

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:

A. 24th of April I will have a book launch together with Jessica Meserve and Celina Buckley, at the bookstore Heffers in Cambridge, UK. 

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

https://puckkoper.portfoliobox.net/about-me-4

https://www.instagram.com/puckkoper/ 

 

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DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER

“Children love the movement and dancing words that are threaded throughout the book.

They love to spin, whirl, and waltz as I read it.

They want to get up and move around, and it's so fun to see them

imitate the motions Helen used as she created her art.”

 

Elizabeth Brown is a professional violinist, film producer, and college teacher. And now, after three years of waiting for her #firstpicturebook to be published, Elizabeth is an author. DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR:THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER is a Spring 2019 Junior Library Guild selection with "textual descriptions of Frankenthaler's process [that] are gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews).

  
Q. Was DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR 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 an MFA in Creative Writing and spent years in writing classes, writing in other genres, and teaching writing at the college level before I started writing picture books.

DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER is my debut picture book, but it's the third picture book I wrote. My first and second picture books are releasing from other publishers soon! 

 
Q. What inspired DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR?

A. I first learned about Helen Frankenthaler in a modern art history course in college. My professor emphasized her work in the course as she was one of the major abstract expressionists in the 20th century and overcame the male-dominated art world at the time, which was very difficult to do at that time! I thought writing a picture book biography of her early life would work well as a book for young children, and I am so happy that Abrams thought so as well! In my author's note in the back matter, I discuss my inspiration in more detail. 

 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

I chose the title to emphasize Helen's movements around the canvas and her methods of applying paints, making the colors "dance" on the canvas. Also, since Mountains and Sea was the painting that led to Color Field movement, I definitely wanted to make sure this came across in the title. 

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

I write by hand until I'm pretty confident I have a very solid draft. Before I even write anything though, I have done lots of thinking, freewriting, answering questions about the character and/or topic until I feel I am ready to begin working on it as a book. Then I start to storyboard it and outline it in a book dummy to see how the idea might work as an actual picture book. I keep writing by hand until I feel I'm ready to start typing it out. I then type it, print, read, and make revisions by hand in it, and then type, print again, make revisions, continuing in this fashion until I feel it's really close to a final submission ready draft. Then I create another book dummy to see how it all works out and keep revising if necessary. Finally, I begin reading the manuscript out loud many, many times, and make tiny edits over and over, until I feel the manuscript is ready to submit to my agent. 

 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

My favorite part is the ending. I chose to make it a lyrical ending as it not only hints at Helen's life and success as an artist following Mountains and Sea, but it also defines the essence of Color Field painting and that she will live forever through her art. This ending came in later drafts; it wasn't in the first draft.

 
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?

A. I used many primary sources, including interviews of Helen Frankenthaler, studying her art work, especially Mountains and Sea, I watched documentary films of Helen as she created her paintings, and I also used reputable secondary sources about Helen written by art historians. The most important part of my research was the help and vetting of the manuscript by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. This was crucial to the success of the book, and I can't thank them enough for all their help!

 
Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?

A. The book focuses on Helen Frankenthaler's early life, from young childhood through age 23, after she completed her game-changing Mountains and Sea. I knew that I wanted to focus on this timeframe as it highlights how much Helen's development began in childhood and how she built on that through her young adult life and beyond. This timeframe also allowed me to highlight her love of color, her struggles to overcome her father's death and the male-dominated art world, and set the stage for showing how emotion and nature are rooted in all of her work, both of which formed in childhood. The timeframe also works well for a picture book biography where showing a slice of her life allows for more focus on essential aspects in her life and work while appealing to picture book readers.

 
Q. What information do you include in the back matter?

A. The back matter contains more information on Helen Frankenthaler, photos of her, a photo of Mountains and Sea, an author's note, an art activity based on Helen's soak-stain technique, quotes and their sources, and a selected bibliography. 

 
Q. Did DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. My agent sent it out to about ten editors, and we sold it in this first round of submissions!

 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR.

A. My agent called me when we received the offer from Abrams, and of course, I was thrilled beyond anything! I was going to be a children's book author!


Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. I was given a chance to weigh in, and I was thrilled when Aimee Sicuro was selected as the illustrator. Her ability to capture the colors and Helen's personality and interweave these throughout the book was amazing. Her illustrations are stunning and add so much to the story.

 
Q.  What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. All the luscious color! Aimee definitely understood Helen's art process and worked this in throughout the entire book. Her gorgeous art complemented the text so well. I am so fortunate to have her as the illustrator. 

 
Q. How long did DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. About three years. I received the offer in the spring of 2016, and the book releases on March 19, 2019. 

 
Q. When you read DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. Children love the movement and dancing words that are threaded throughout the book. They love to spin, whirl, and waltz as I read it. They want to get up and move around, and it's so fun to see them imitate the motions Helen used as she created her art. I hope they'll try the art project at the end of the book! I hope the book inspires them in their own artistic and creative pursuits, now and in the future.


Q. Did you create any book swag for DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR? If so, what kind?

No, I haven't yet, but I do see myself doing an art activity for school or author visits.

 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

The #1 tip is to keep writing, no matter what! I also suggest that picture book writers develop a love for revision. Revision is where the artistry of writing happens. I can't imagine being a writer and not loving revising since as writers we will be revising so much! One never really stops revising a book I feel. There are so many ways to tell a story – as a writer, it's so important to grasp this and then be able to embrace it. Love the journey and the process!

 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. I don't really have a favorite writing exercise. I just have my process, and I stick to that as it works for me. I do find new exercises to try, and it's nice to add those in to my process if they work for me. Mostly, I love good old-fashioned freewriting as a way to solve problems I may encounter as I draft a story. This has always helped me in my process.

 
Q. What are you working on now?

A. I am working on more picture books!

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. I look forward to connecting! You can find me at:

Website: www.elizabethmbrown.com

Twitter: @ebrownbooks

Instagram: @elizabethbrownbooks

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