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THE BOOK OF MISTAKES

Corinna Luyken submitted manuscripts and book dummies to publishers for 16 years! But it wasn’t until she was inspired by a series of mistakes that she created what would become her #firstpicturebook. Today she talks to us about perfection, progress, and the process of making THE BOOK OF MISTAKES—“a striking debut picture book" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that “lifts to the level of the sublime the idea of putting one’s slip-ups in perspective” (The Wall Street Journal).

Q. Was THE BOOK OF MISTAKES 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 wrote quite a few manuscripts before The Book of Mistakes! I also made 4 or 5 fully illustrated book dummies. But the first manuscript I ever submitted to publishers (back in 2001) was called Sore Feet. It was the story of a small shoe shop and it’s owner, Cornelius O’Leary. I received a few personal rejection letters for that story, which kept me going for years!

Q. What inspired THE BOOK OF MISTAKES?
A. It started with a series of mistakes. For years I drew with pens because I liked the fluid feel of ink on paper. I liked how, with pen, a line can take on a life of it’s own. But often that life would lead to shapes and marks I hadn’t intended and could not erase. Because I loved to draw - and loved to draw with ink - I learned to deal with those accidents. If I messed up something in a face, I’d add glasses. If I didn’t like the way I’d drawn a hand, I might add gloves. And somewhere along the way I learned to enjoy how each mistake forced me to find a new way of looking at the world.

And I began to wonder if celebrating mistakes was something that could be taught.

In my years working as both a teaching assistant and artist in residence in elementary schools, I started to notice a pattern. In every class there would be one or two kids who, within minutes of starting to draw, were raising their hand asking for another piece of paper. They didn’t like what they were seeing. They wanted to start over. They wanted to make it perfect. It became my job to help them see the possibility in that mistake, to see how they could keep going and transform their drawing or painting into something that they still might love.

This all came home for me when my daughter was four years old. At that age she loved everything she drew. She didn’t see mistakes, only pattern and line and color and texture. And she LOVED to draw. Then one day, while drawing, she burst into tears and threw her paper on the ground. She had made a mistake. She couldn’t fix it.

And it broke my heart.

Not yet, I remember thinking. Not her. Not already. Not now.

So I wrote this book. For her. For them. For me. For anyone who has ever made a mistake.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came before anything else. Originally, I was thinking of something along the lines of The BIG Book of Miskakes, which was a phrase that I wrote down in my notebook a few years before the rest of the story came along.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The thing that made me laugh out loud, when I was writing the story, was the frog-cat-cow. Which I still love. And of course the tree! I drew the tree seven or eight times to get it just right (in part because it crosses the gutter twice) and I never got tired of redrawing it. Both of those were in the first draft. But I also love the spread where you see the silhouette of the forest, and just the topmost hint of the girl’s glasses. That page turn makes kids gasp when I read it in classrooms. One or two kids will see it first, and let out an audible “oh!” and then suddenly all the kids are looking to see what they saw, and then there will be a chorus of oohs and ahs and kids saying “It’s her! I see the girl!” It’s so fun!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. The first half of the book came to me, all at once. And that was just the way it arrived! The second half was another matter, and took an entire year to sort out.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE BOOK OF MISTAKES? 
A. I had a pretty good sense of the first half of the book. Which, at the time, I thought would be the entire book. I knew I wanted to include real mistakes that I make when I draw… so that first part was pretty easy. Originally, the story ended with the giant tree. And a line about how she wasn’t a mistake but was meant to be. But when I sent it along to (my now agent) Steven Malk, he felt like the ending could be stronger. It took me almost a year to find another way to end the story. It wasn’t easy, and I experimented a lot. And so I started to experiment with big splashes of ink. After that, it all came together pretty quickly, and the book doubled in size!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. With this story, the words and pictures came simultaneously.

Q. Did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A It didn’t. I have received many rejection letters—I’d been sending out manuscripts and book dummies for almost 16 years. But when I wrote The Book of Mistakes I knew it was better than anything else I’d written. So I sent it to Steve Malk, an agent at Writers House, with fingers crossed. And fortunately, he loved it (except for the ending). But it was still an entire year of revising the story before I came up with the ending as it is now. At that point he signed me on as a client and we sent the book out. It ended up going to auction, with five publishers interested in it. That part all happened very quickly, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it was seventeen years of very slow progress and then a few weeks where everything came together very quickly!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.
A. I was over the moon! My husband and I both were. We jumped up and down a LOT. It was a pretty incredible time.

But then, pretty quickly, I realized there was still a lot of work to do! Which is a good thing, because in the end it is our relationship with the creative process (not the excitement of finding an agent and having a manuscript published) that will feed the next project, and the next…

Q. How long did THE BOOK OF MISTAKES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was very close to finished when we submitted it, but I did have to ink up some of the final scenes and redraw the tree, and then assemble some of the bits and pieces in photoshop. All of that back and forth with the publisher took another 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. Yes! There was a part in the original story that had to go. A boy, with extra wide fingers.

I still love him. But early on, Steve said something about how I was starting to repeat myself with that character and line. And as soon as he said that, I realized he was right, it had to go.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It takes patience and persistence, nothing in this industry moves quickly. (They call it the hurry up and wait industry for a reason.) But if you really love what you’re doing, if you’re passionate about making books for kids, you will persist. And your art will get better because of that. I have a favorite quote from Ira Glass that are worth repeating here:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. 
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.  
And the thing that I would say to you, with all of my heart, is this—most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase—they went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you've got to  know it's normal.  And the most important thing you can do—is do a lot of work.  It is only by going through a volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap.  And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions. 
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while.  It’s gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. And you've just got to fight your way through that— okay?” 

—Ira Glass 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As far as writing or illustrating exercises, I would just recommend this Chuck Close quote! Which I have found to be absolutely true and incredibly helpful. So much so, that I’ve quoted in a few other interviews, but I think it bears repeating over and over (and over) again:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.” 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished illustrating a book called Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have A Horse, written by debut author Marcy Campbell, which is coming out August 14, 2018 from Dial Books. It is essentially a story about compassion and kindness. And seeing the world a bit differently. (The publishers description is: “Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse--the best and most beautiful horse anywhere. But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse? The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn't get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.”)

So now I am working on two new projects—one is my next book as author/illustrator. It is called my heart, my heart and is a meditation on/celebration of the heart. The art for that one is all monoprint printmaking and pencil, so it will look quite different from The Book of Mistakes!

I am also illustrating a middle grade novel by Carolyn Crimi, called Weird Little Robots, which will be released from Candlewick in the spring of 2019.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
www.corinnaluyken.com
t: @corinnaluyken
IG: corinnaluyken
fb: corinna Luyken illustration
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HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT

Rebecca Grabill is about to have her sixth child! But like all multi-tasking mamas, she made time for one more thing. Thank you Rebecca for fitting us into your busy schedule! Below is her #firstpicturebook Q&A on HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT—a “delightful bedtime riff on the OVER IN THE MEADOW nursery rhyme (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review) and “fun storytime read-aloud that’s just right for the youngest Halloween revelers.” (School Library Journal)

Q. Was HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Goodness no! I’ve been writing since forever—my first picture book manuscript was written in college back in the 90s, and even made it to acquisitions at Greenwillow! It was too quiet for them, a mood piece. It’s even quieter now where it sits on my hard drive. I have no expectation that it will ever be published, though with some revision… HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT is probably my, uh, hmmm, maybe thirtieth picture book manuscript?

Q. What inspired HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT?
A. That’s a complicated question. Ok, not really that complicated, but I will say I never set out to write a Halloween book. During my MFA (Hamline University, 2011) I spent a month reading every Halloween book I could find, examining it, critiquing it. I found that there were a heap of books. And only a handful I absolutely loved. So I decided to try to write something I *did* love, hence the birth of HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT.

The second part of the answer involves being a mother and reading a certain picture book Every Single Day for months on end to my oldest child. Which book? A version of OVER IN THE MEADOW. Very cute, very repetitive, very stuck-in-my-brain-forever. It may have been my deep fatigue with OVER IN THE MEADOW that made it the natural inspiration for HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT. Because as I read to my son, I’d at times change (in my mind) the little animals to something more interesting than fishies and spiders.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title started off as something like OVER IN THE GRAVEYARD or YONDER IN THE GRAVEYARD. It was briefly GHOULS A LURKING (which I hated but had been worn down into saying, “Whatever, just title it what you want.”). I don’t quite remember how it became HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT. It may have been a suggestion from my agent or editor, or maybe I came up with it? But once the title arrived, it stayed.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A combination. I will sometimes write the roughest rough draft of a picture book on blank paper with huge handwriting. To (supposedly) trick my brain into not focussing on being a perfectionist. Because I am a terrible perfectionist. I’m not sure how well this works, however. Most times I’ll take notes on paper (or a napkin or envelope or… you get the idea) and type up a draft on computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I’ll be honest, I loved the rhyme of Six with Transfix, which was indeed in an early draft, but that line was edited out. I understand why, but I miss the word transfix all the same. Isn’t it such a delicious word?

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in second person? 
A. Because I was using the form of OVER IN THE MEADOW, and because I have no single protagonist, first person didn’t really work. I actually tried it in first because some readers didn’t like the use of second person. Ultimately I returned to the immediacy of second person direct address, with the narration in third.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. I never tried it in prose mostly because a poem (in rhyme) was my model and inspiration. I much prefer prose—rhyme is beastly hard. Rhythm is brutal. Really it’s agonizingly difficult to write good rhyme, weeping and gnashing of teeth sort of agony. I would much rather write in prose, or rub salt on a paper cut or…

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT? 
A. I’d say a good portion of it. I knew, for one, that it needed to have an actual story. Most OVER IN THE MEADOW adaptations don’t have any semblance of story, they’re just counting books. But I very much wanted a beginning, middle, and end. I knew it would involved a Halloween party of some sort, and I knew I wanted a surprise ending. Those were my starting points and the rest grew over various drafts (of which there were many).

Q. Did HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Hmmm. My first agent shopped it to a few publishers, but I don’t remember how many. Five, six maybe? Victoria of Wells Arms Literary (the awesomest agent ever) sent it out to a few editors, we received some feedback, I revised, and then she found an editor actively searching for a Halloween book and got it to her right away, and, well, the rest of the story is obvious!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT.
A. I’m not sure how it works for other authors or books, but with an agent an offer can come in strange ways. For HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT I got an email saying something like, “Letting you know I’ll have an offer by tomorrow!” And the next day, which just happened to be Halloween, I snuck out of my kids’ homeschool co-op to take her call in the car. I basically floated around the rest of the day, but it was surreal because the rest of the world didn’t know (or much care) that I’d sold my first book, my kids included. I went quickly from “Hey kids, guess what” to “Stop it, don’t poke her, no I won’t buy you a milkshake.” I wanted to announce it everywhere, but I was terrified I’d jinx it and somehow make Simon & Schuster go out of business or something—because I have that kind of power. Ahem.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Actually, my amazingly brilliant editor did run a few suggested illustrators by me. Not so much for my approval, more to let me know what she had in mind. The illustrator chosen was not among them, however, so it was all a surprise!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Well, the first cover illustration was an awesome silhouette, very artistic and cool. That wasn’t the final cover. I love the cover (actually I loved the first one too!), especially how sweet and cute it is. Not scary at all. Which is vital for a not-scary bedtime Halloween book!

Q. How long did HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Written in fall 2010, offer in fall 2014, published in summer 2017. As I tell the children, “You do the math.”

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 went through So Many Versions of this manuscript between 2010 and 2014, I’m not sure I even remember what’s in it/not in it, you know? I do miss transfix, but I already mentioned that. ;-)

Q. When you do readings of HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I LOVE reading this book to the right age group of kiddos. I’ve discovered that very tiny kids, toddlers, aren’t that interested beyond the pictures and rhythm. But 3yr olds, 4, 5, 6, they eat it up. As I read I’ll draw attention to the “unfolding” mystery—“Where are the werewolves headed?” or “They’re at YOUR house!” and truly, they are enraptured, leaning forward, watching, just the tiniest bit anxious that “they” will soon be eaten by monsters. I love the giggles I get with the surprise ending. AND the bacon joke (yes, there’s a dumpster diving/bacon joke—I’m so mature). I’m always surprised by how many kids bust out laughing over the bacon! I mean, I thought it was funny, but didn’t really expect anyone else to find it funny!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Yowzers, how to limit it to one tip… Heed advice. If an agent or editor has an issue, LISTEN. If two out of three test readers don’t like something/are confused by something, LISTEN. Don’t be afraid to start over. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to scrap a manuscript entirely. And if an editor/agent offers a detailed critique, DO NOT JUST switch a few words around and call it “revised.” Revision means re-envisioning, not fixing a few spelling or syntax errors.

I guess that’s easy for me to say since I enjoy revision about a million times more than writing the first draft, but unless your book is a flash of genius (and most aren’t), revision (real revision) is going to make even the best start so much better. 

But save everything—it will give you freedom to cut that “perfect line” which may well be perfect, but you may not know until it’s gone. (I use Scrivener and take snapshots before each revise.)

In short: writing is joy, but writing is also WORK. Hard work. And if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. ;-) 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Ugh. I know nothing about marketing and have NO idea if my efforts have made even a smidge of difference with HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT. But I can say, as for writing exercises, if one has a heap of kids and a lot going on, just sitting in the chair is enough exercise! I don’t believe in “warm ups”—if I tried to warm up for twenty minutes every time I wrote, I’d be exercising, not writing! I also don’t believe in inspiration. Who has time to wait for the muse? Sit, write, live life, repeat.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just sent a draft of a middle grade novel to my agent, which she’s sending on to editors. Come November, I’ll do NaNoWriMo, but for picture books! Someone online had a National Picture Book Idea Month, but moved it to January or something. I’m sticking with November, and am shooting for full drafts of picture books. Not thirty, but as many as I can manage. I did this last year and ended up with only one or two to send to my agent (the rest were blech—not things I’d share!). Maybe this year I’ll get three or four?

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
website: https://www.rebeccagrabill.com
email: rebeccawritesbooks@gmail.com
twitter: @rebeccagrabill
facebook page: authorrebeccagrabill
instagram: @rebeccawritesbooks
pinterest: rebeccagrabill
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ANIMALS SPELL LOVE

David Cundy owns a graphic design firm, creating identities and websites for organizations such as the Brooklyn Museum, Columbia University, and the Parsons School of Design. He has also taught at Yale and Fairfield University. But today he opens his classroom to us and talks about his #firstpicturebook ANIMALS SPELL LOVE—"an impressive demonstration of text as art" (Publishers Weekly) and “very highly recommended for family, elementary school, and community library picture book collections for young readers" (Children's Bookwatch, The Midwest Book Review)

Q. Was ANIMALS SPELL LOVE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. ANIMALS SPELL LOVE is my debut children’s picture book. Its inspiration and genesis were a combination of serendipity and mindfulness, in that I had committed myself to a decade’s effort to launch my career as an author. Eight years, four adult fiction books and one non-fiction adult book proposal in, I succeeded with this lovely children’s book.

Q. What inspired ANIMALS SPELL LOVE?
A. ANIMALS SPELL LOVE was inspired by one of its illustrations – the Lovebirds, which I created to illustrate a poem. That was followed by six years’ work creating the other illustrations and text, and designing the book. And another two months connecting with my agent, and another six months securing a publisher.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My agent – whose professionalism has been impeccable – was responsible for the title of the book, which I had positioned slightly differently (and less broadly). I expect to use the outtake for merchandising.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Because ANIMALS SPELL LOVE is a non-narrative picture book whose text is dictated by its content (to show how to say “Love” and “I love you” in sixteen languages), writing requirements were technical. The computer was necessary since I employed non-Latin alphabets with which I was unfamiliar and couldn’t have easily written in any event.

As a poet, I write “ambidextrously” on both paper and the screen! As an adult-content author and culture journalist, I of course use a computer. Simple children’s books don’t require word processing until the layout stage.

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. I’m told that everyone has a favorite vignette in ANIMALS SPELL LOVE, as do I. My favorite part of Animals Spell Love is the reception it gets among kids and their family members, who are validated in their native languages, and excited to learn how others say “I love you.” And younger kids love to find the heart in every vignette, a feature of the book.

Q. Did you write the text first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. As mentioned above, ANIMALS SPELL LOVE arose from one of its illustrations – an animal word-picture of the word “Love.” Once I determined that the text would describe how to say “I love you,” completion of the book revolved around selecting the remaining animals and languages. The languages used are those most spoken around the world.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for ANIMALS SPELL LOVE?
A. Many! Because I love poetry, I wanted ANIMALS SPELL LOVE to have poetic elements. So it includes, for example, an allusion to Isaac Watts’s “How doth the little busy bee” in the English vignette, and “Late afternoon,” a beautiful poem by Du Fu, which forms the actual “shaped poetry” illustration in the Chinese vignette. And because I am an artist, I included my own versions of Albrecht Durer’s “Little Owl” and a Chinese ceramic duck from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. I also pay homage to children’s books, most obviously Dr. Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish in the Japanese vignette.

Language research was another matter. Although my language background includes French, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Spanish, dealing with Amharic (Ethiopian) and Arabic, for example, required both research and precision; Arabic, notably, has four forms for each letter. And it turns out that in some languages, one says “I love you” differently to children, parents, elders, friends and lovers.

Q. Did ANIMALS SPELL LOVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. “Rejection” is part of the process. A wise author listens to and learns from editors for whom his/her book isn’t a “fit.” Shopping a book to multiple editors enables one to gain insights into first impressions, strengths and weaknesses – things to which authors (and even agents) are too close to objectively assess. Unsurprisingly, Animals Spell Love was accepted by the publisher I had surmised would accept it. My publisher is a dream to work with.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ANIMALS SPELL LOVE.
A. As a debut author, I was of course elated – and relieved. Although I must say that the world of children’s book publishing these days can be understandably risk-averse – a challenge to the debut author.

Q. How long did ANIMALS SPELL LOVE take to be published – from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. From receipt of offer to books in hand, ANIMALS SPELL LOVE took just over a year – from September to November. We officially launched on Valentine’s Day 2017 – 17 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. My agent specified that I add a “climax” vignette – a symphonic crescendo that brought everything together. I am so grateful.

At my publisher’s behest, I removed my translation of the Du Fu poem, which represented an inconsistent element not found anywhere else in the text. It’s good to have a little mystery, especially when it comes to language, and I’ve learned in life to pick my battles. In exchange, I got to keep the American Sign Language (butterfly) vignette, well worth the trade-off!

Q. When you do readings of ANIMALS SPELL LOVE, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. It’s different for every audience, because in America, every audience is different. At one public library event, for example, a family of Ethiopian origin came to see the Amharic (leopard) vignette. I’m delighted to report that at every event, all kids love saying “I love you” with the American Sign Language handsign.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Have an intriguing story to tell! And remember that you can make our world a better place by educating and inspiring children.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Marketing is hard work, and you will be required to do far more of it than you might prefer. If you expect to succeed, you will need to have your own website, create a trailer, and actively promote events and library collection acquisition of your book – on an ongoing basis. Having a publicist is a valuable luxury.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m completing ANIMALS SPELL PEACE, the companion/sequel to ANIMALS SPELL LOVE. I expect that this pair will have a catalytic effect on each other, since their audiences both overlap and complement each other. Additional books are in the hopper!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Website: I set up my authorial website about six months before launch. It’s quite comprehensive, and includes event information and media resources.
Trailer: The ANIMALS SPELL LOVE trailer was Shelf-awareness.com’s “Trailer of the Day” on December 2, 2016.
Facebook
Contact: My email is david@davidcundyauthor.com.
Publicity: My publicist is Diane Kebede (djkebede@gmail.com; 515-943-3883).


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FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP

Jen Campbell is busy. She’s a bestselling author, award winning poet, and short story writer who has worked as a bookseller for 10 years. And she runs a YouTube channel! But today she takes some time to talk about creating her #firstpicturebook FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP—a Noteworthy Fall 2017 Picture Book selection from Imagination Soup. 

Q. Was FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP 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, yes.

Q. What inspired FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP?
A. I worked as a bookseller for ten years and children were the best part of my job. The enthusiasm and love they have for stories is fierce. I wanted to write something for them that reflected that.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I have ectrodactyly, so I type.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think the half-rhyming lists in Franklin’s Flying Bookshop were the most fun to write. “Every day Franklin reads about King Arthur and rollerskating… about electricity and baking… He reads about spiders and ballet and how to do kung fu.”

As for the illustration, I love all of them but my particular favourite is the double page spread where Luna and Franklin meet each other for the first time. I love the expression on their faces.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Luna relates to the moon, which is important to the series - though I can’t say why (spoiler!).

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I wanted it to have a fairy tale feel, and fairy tales are always told in third person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP? 
A. I knew it was going to be a book that celebrated difference and highlighted how reading can help us empathise with others. I knew the overall storyline, but of course things changed slightly as I went.

Q. Did FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. One.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP.
A. Immense joy.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I actually found Katie myself. I’d had a meeting with Thames & Hudson, who said they were keen to take Franklin on. They suggested I go away and look up illustrators and they would do the same. I discovered Katie’s work in a catalogue for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and fell in love with her illustrations. We met up, got on, and that was that.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches?
A. The first sketch Katie did was of Luna sitting on Franklin’s stomach, both of them reading, surrounded by books and fireflies. It had such a warmth to it; it was beautiful.

Q. How long did FRANKLIN'S FLYING BOOKSHOP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Eighteen months - as the illustrations hadn’t been done when we signed.

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. Nope.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture book writers?
A. Read everything aloud as you go.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have my debut short story collection (for adults) out this November. It’s called The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night and is published by Two Roads. It’s a collection of twelve haunting tales, many of which are inspired by fairy tale.

The sequel to Franklin’s Flying Bookshop will be published in 2018.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
Youtube: www.youtube.com/jenvcampbell
Website: www.jen-campbell.com
Twitter: @jenvcampbell
Instagram: @jenvcampbell
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IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND

Former librarian and current Marketing Director at Kids Can Press, Naseem Hrab knows how long it takes to make a book. But even she felt like it took forever to publish her #firstpicturebook IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND—“A fast-moving text that speaks to the fear children have about being the new kid anywhere in life….especially welcome on the shelves for back-to-school storytimes and shared readings” (School Library Journal).

Q. Was IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Nope, it was not the first picture book manuscript I wrote. In my early twenties, I wrote a story about a little girl who didn’t like the lunch her mom packed for her. My story was unoriginal and didn’t really have a compelling narrative—there are plenty of published books that tackle that topic better than my attempt. And I got a very kind, personalized rejection letter from the publishing company I had sent it to. Ten years later, I started taking improv classes and I finally learned how to craft a story.

Q. What inspired IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. The story is inspired by my own experiences making new friends—I was the new kid in fourth grade. Sometimes, this loud, gregarious part of my personality comes out when I’m meeting new people and it feels like it’s TOO MUCH!!! And when I was a kid, I once tried so hard to make friends with this one kid that I made her cry. Yikes!!! I think I’ve learned a lot since that time in my life.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title popped into my head when I was writing the book. I like to write drafts with a title in mind because it helps me to frame up the narrative. Later on, after the book was accepted at Owlkids, a few different title options were suggested, like “Ira Crumb: New Kid Seeks Friend,” but I always felt like IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND fit the book best because it seems to make people laugh when you say it (“He’s just a pretty good friend? Not a GREAT one?”) and because of the double meaning—Ira is a pretty good friend and he also makes a pretty good friend in Malcolm.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both! Typically, when I start working on a story, I'll write by hand using a pencil or a really inky pen—something that lets me write really fast and loose. In these early stages, every idea matters, so I avoid using an eraser or crossing anything out. My notes start out so messy! As the narrative starts to reveal itself, my notes will get neater and neater and that’s a sign that things are cooking, so I move to my laptop.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Ira lets an anteater know he’s got a booger in his nose cave. It definitely wasn’t in the first draft—I came up with the line much later on.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Sometimes I choose the names of people I know and, other times, like with the name Ira Crumb, a name pops into my head and feels right. (Also, in super early drafts, Ira was a small piece of cake, so that’s how he originally got his last name.)

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I feel like the story is told in a combination of third-person narrative and first-person action and dialogue. The narrator’s descriptions and Ira’s reality are kind of at odds with each other in certain moments, and this dichotomy makes for a lot of humorous moments.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND?
A. I wanted to tell a story about an animal interviewing potential new friends, and then that turned into a story about a piece of cake trying to make friends, and then that turned into a kid who tried too hard to make friends. So, I guess I didn’t know much when I started writing the story!

Q. Did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Ira came to be published in a neat way: I had workshopped Ira in a writing club I had formed with a few publishing and librarian folks. (I’m a former librarian and I work as a marketing director for a children’s publishing company.) One of our members, Karen Li, is the editorial director of Owlkids. After reading the manuscript in our club, Karen asked me to submit it to Owlkids. The manuscript was presented to their editorial board under the pen name Abe Bishop and that was that!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND.
A. OMG. DREAMS *CAN* COME TRUE. And then I bawled.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Karen is incredibly collaborative, so we discussed what style we thought might be the best fit for the book and we were both on the same page. When she put forth Josh Holinaty’s name, I was super excited—I was familiar with his work in children’s books. I love how sophisticated, energetic and colorful his illustrations are.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Josh’s illustrations are so expressive and lively. He is so good at capturing emotion and movement. Ira has a larger-than-life personality and Josh made that personality a reality. Also, Josh and I seem to find the same types of things funny, so I was thrilled with all of the humor that he brought to the story. His illustrations make me laugh out loud!

Q. How long did IRA CRUMB MAKES A PRETTY GOOD FRIEND take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two-and-a-half years. Owlkids expressed an interest in publishing Ira in January 2015 and the book was released in August 2017. I’ve worked in book publishing for over ten years and I know it takes a long time to make a book, but this felt like FOREVER to me.

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. When I first sat down with my editor to discuss the manuscript, I said, “I’ll change anything you want, but I can’t take out the ‘You’ve got a booger in your nose cave, pal!’ line. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever written.” And she said, “Hmm … I was going to ask you to consider taking that line out.” I didn’t take it out and I don’t regret it. I think it’s the line that kids will find the funniest. That said, the thing with editorial feedback is that you normally should listen! Because 1) your editor wants to make the best book possible with you, and 2) you have to trust that if she suggests you change something, it’s because what you’ve written might not be working. And it’s your job to figure out solutions to the issues your editor points out. I love that quote about “killing your darlings” that’s attributed to every great writer, so let’s quote Stephen King’s version: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Focus on capturing emotion in your story. How does your character feel about what is happening to them? If you focus on your character’s emotions, their reactions and actions will reveal themselves to you. And if I had to give a #1.5 tip, it’d be: finish every draft you start.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite writing exercise is writing a “vomit draft.” It’s important to realize that nothing is going to be perfect in your first draft (or even a second or third draft), so you need to get something, anything, down on paper to give you something to work with and build on. My favorite marketing tip is: write a great book that people will talk about. Word of mouth is the #1 best way to get your book into the hands of readers.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now, I'm working on a draft for a potential Ira Crumb 3. The second book in the Ira Crumb series is coming out in Fall 2018 and it’s tentatively titled IRA CRUMB FEELS THE FEELINGS. I also have a picture book coming out with Groundwood Books in Spring 2019—it’s called WEEKEND DAD and it’s completely different than the Ira books. It’s more serious and was inspired by my tenuous relationship with my father. I'm also working on a few other picture book ideas.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.
NaseemHrab.com
Instagram: Naseemo
Twitter: @Naseemo
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LOVELY

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/
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ZEBRA ON THE GO

Magazine writer Jill Nogales always rode the carousel's zebra when she was a child. But it wasn’t until she read about a circus animal escape that her zebra took off! Today she shares the story of her #firstpicturebook ZEBRA ON THE GO —“a beautiful tapestry of art, humor, and friendship” (School Library Journal) and “a solid read-aloud that is equally entertaining for both adults and children” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Q. Was ZEBRA ON THE GO 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 been writing magazine stories, as well as educational and religious materials, for children for several years, but ZEBRA ON THE GO is my first serious attempt at writing a picture book.

Q. What inspired ZEBRA ON THE GO?
A. I read a brief article in the “Odds and Ends” section of the local newspaper about how a circus had come to town somewhere back east and one of the show animals had escaped during a performance causing a big ruckus in that town. That was it. No details. Which wasn’t at all fair because I wanted to know more! So I started imagining possible scenarios and that sparked the idea for ZEBRA ON THE GO.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Honestly, I never gave the title much thought. It’s a phrase that is repeated throughout the story and it seemed like the right title from the very beginning.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. The computer is my preferred method of writing, but if I’m away from my desk and I get a really fabulous idea, I’ll write it by hand. Part of ZEBRA ON THE GO came to me in the middle of the night on a family camping trip. I didn’t want to wake up my kids, so I wrote it on a napkin with a crayon in the dark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send image of this page if you can.)
A. My favorite part of the book is where Zebra is hiding on the carousel pretending to be one of the horse figurines. It’s a fond childhood memory, I suppose. When I was young, my parents took me for rides on a carousel that had a zebra. My brother always chose one of the big fancy horses. But I rode on the zebra.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. First person didn’t seem right for this story because Zebra and Lion are focused on the chase and pretty much unaware of the chaotic ruckus they are causing as the story progresses. I wanted a broader perspective on the story events and third person let me do that.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. ZEBRA ON THE GO is an action story. I felt that rhyme would make the story snap and keep the flow of energy going.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO ? 
A. When I began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO, I just had the first half in mind. Originally, the scene where Zebra is hiding on the carousel was the grand finale. But then a critique partner pointed out that Lion would not give up the chase so easily. Obviously, right? I kept writing and brought the story full-circle. 

Q. Did ZEBRA ON THE GO receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. There’s never a shortage of rejection letters in my inbox, but ZEBRA ON THE GO actually received very few. I started out by submitting it to 3 or 4 agents and they were all interested but wanted to see 2 more manuscripts which I unfortunately didn’t have. So I submitted ZEBRA ON THE GO to a few publishing houses on my own and it was snatched up pretty quickly.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ZEBRA ON THE GO.
A. Very excited! Dream come true!!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the sketches and jacket cover, I was amazed at how perfectly the illustrator, Lorraine Rocha, understood the big ruckus I had in mind when I wrote the text. She did an incredible job with ZEBRA ON THE GO. Her illustrations are so fun and delightfully detailed. 

Q. How long did ZEBRA ON THE GO take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Almost 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. Not one word was changed from the original manuscript -- for which I’m grateful because it could have messed up the rhyme and that would have been complicated to rewrite!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Embrace and enjoy the process. By “process,” I mean going to bookstores and libraries to analyze the newest picture books, joining a critique group and SCBWI, and of course actually writing. Luck sometimes plays a part, but writing a picture book is mostly a lot hard work. It’s tough to conjure one up overnight. It’s a process. So embrace and enjoy it!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Get to know the owners of nearby independent bookstores. These people know how to market books, they have connections, and most often they are happy to offer advice and guidance to debut authors.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m still writing magazine stories as well as educational and religious materials. But I also have a few more picture book manuscripts in the works.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
www.jillnogales.com

Thank you for this opportunity to share about my first picture book, Karlin, and best wishes to all of your readers!
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SMALL

Illustrator Gina Perry grew up being the smallest in her class and in her family. But on August 1, something big is happening—her author/illustrator debut! Today Gina shares the story about creating #firstpicturebook SMALL.

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SMALL. 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 tinkered with story ideas for many years, but made writing a priority when I had my children. I knew juggling hectic illustration deadlines and babies was not in the cards for me, so I became my own client. I paid myself nothing, but demanded that I write as much as possible and never quit on my ideas. The “kidlit” community is full of amazing resources once you open that door.

Illustrating my own books is amazingly different. I am still adjusting to the idea that I am in control of all the little details that were previously dictated to me by an art director. I have really enjoyed working with an editor to keep pushing my work to be it’s best. It feels far more like a partnership than any of my previous illustration assignments. Although, to be honest, I have been extremely fortunate in having nothing but great experiences with my illustration clients.

Q. Was SMALL 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 I wrote was called TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! It will be published Summer 2018 by Tundra. I first had the idea, starting with that refrain of the title, ten years ago. Did I mention that I never quit on my ideas?

Q. What inspired SMALL?
A. I was the smallest child in my grade until high school and also the smallest kid in the family. I was quite shy, even until my thirties. I wrote SMALL as a poem in a small sketchbook (but of course!) in a waiting room. The first draft was personal but I felt like I had something special right away.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I might ramble on in real life and interviews, but I generally like to pare down my writing to the barest structure of words possible. I had a few longer variations, but it eventually seemed that SMALL was just the right fit.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote several versions of SMALL by hand. I will often jot down titles or rough ideas in sketchbooks or even in my phone’s note app. Once I am ready to really flesh a story out, I will write and revise on the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favorite part of the story is when she sings big. I love all her big moments, but that one hits me hardest. I love music and singing, but would never have been so brave to sing alone in front of a crowd at that age.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. It flowed out of me in first person, so I never imagined it any other way. I also hoped that it would allow children to place themselves in her shoes and feel big along her journey.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SMALL?
A. I knew it would be about a small girl but was completely blank on the plot for at least a year.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I sketched out several different concepts for the story, and there were some wonderful images that were lost to revisions, but each draft helped me understand the character better.

Q. Did SMALL receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent smartly knew that SMALL needed a revision but I felt so confident in that version that she sent it out. I think I needed the kind, encouraging rejections to assure me that I did need to revise. I took some time to revise and resubmit, but it was 1000% worth the wait and work when it found a fast home with little bee books. I did have to revise the text before I received an offer, but it was a really positive process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SMALL.
A. I was in a parking lot and had my daughter in the car with me. It felt perfect that it was just the two of us (plus my amazing agent, Teresa Kietlinski, on the phone!). I am TERRIBLE at reacting big to good news! I think it took a long time to absorb the awesomeness of that moment. I have definitely teared up about a million times between then and now. Never before had I worked so hard and long on a goal in life, knowing there was no guarantee that I would reach it.

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

A. It was two years from accepting the offer until publication. As luck would have it, I had just accepted another book job as an illustrator and I couldn’t make the original deadline for Fall of 2016. SMALL had to wait another year, but I was glad to not feel rushed for my author/illustrator debut.

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. Actually, the revisions I made with Jenna were to add more text and another spread. In a very old version I showed the main character brushing her teeth where we just see the top of her head and eyes in the mirror. I really loved that moment, but it actually shows up in a similar way in my next book. I love being an illustrator and using discarded ideas in new ways.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can haul from the library as often as you can. And read them aloud, preferably to an audience. I always knew I loved the images and the stories, but until I was reading to my own children I didn’t realize how much I loved the performance of reading picture books. It might seem like obvious advice, but I think it’s an easily overlooked part of the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If at all possible, find a debut author/illustrator group for your first book. I am incredibly grateful for the support from Picture The Books 2017. This is an amazing, but quirky and frustrating field, and you’ll need all the support you can get. I found mine by being active on social media and answering a call for new picture book authors and illustrators. We work SO hard to get published, and then get tossed into entirely uncharted waters to market our books. Friends in the same boat will be your informational and emotional lifeline.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I recently finished final art on TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH!, out Summer 2018, and will be starting another picture book with Tundra this fall.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.ginaperry.com/
https://twitter.com/ginamarieperry
https://www.facebook.com/ginaperryart/
https://www.instagram.com/ginapineapple/
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GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY

YA author and literary agent Marie Lamba wrote her first picture-book manuscript 30 years ago but it wasn't until this past May that a different manuscript became her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us all about GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY—“an attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening” (School Library Journal) that she co-wrote with her husband, landscape architect Baldev Lamba.

Q. Was GREEN GREEN 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 very first picture book manuscript I wrote was a monstrosity call MONKEY FEET AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES. That was about 30 years ago. Actually it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't a picture book either. More of a schtick -- you know, a quirky idea that didn't really go anywhere.  I subbed it around and was rejected widely.

Q. What inspired GREEN GREEN?
A. My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. GREEN GREEN is a phrase used throughout the story. The subtitle: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY was added by the people at Macmillan to give it a solid hook for book buyers interested in this type of gardening.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For this book, I wrote long-hand in a notebook that I always keep on my bedside. It may or may not have been written around 4 a.m. or so!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the way the land changes throughout the story, becoming a character in a way. And that was always there in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. Actually the book is part rhyme and part prose, and the hope was that this made it a read that would flow and feel lyrical without feeling forced. Repetition plays its part in the story because I really wanted to show how in every stage, the land was changed in a similar way.  Digging made a small garden grow. Digging (with machinery) made a large city grow. And digging with the help of the community, brought a green space back to the city.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GREEN GREEN? 
A. I have to admit, I just started writing, and the story grew and grew!

Q. Did GREEN GREEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. While my first book (the MONKEY FEET one) garnered quite a huge slew of rejections, GREEN GREEN was picked up right away by an editor who happened to love community gardening.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GREEN GREEN.
A. It was a serious thrill!  And, while I have published several YA novels, this is my first picture book -- which makes it very special. And it is the first book my husband has ever had published -- so he was very kid in the candy store.

Q. What was it like working with your husband who is your co-author?
A. Over the years, Baldev and I have co-authored a number of garden-related articles for magazines including Garden Design, Your Home and Gardens & Landscapes. But this was an entirely different realm for us as a team. He trusted my ear when it came to the language throughout the book. I trusted his experience when it came to pulling together the back matter, which points to ways kids can be GREEN GREEN and can help threatened Monarch butterflies and honeybees.  Baldev was especially helpful in pointing out things that could be in the abandoned urban lot, or that needed to be present in the garden. He's actually worked with a number of community groups in Philadelphia to create community gardens, so he really knows his stuff.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sonia Sanchez is SUCH A TALENT!  Our original editor, Susan Dobinick, had her in mind, and once we saw her portfolio, we just knew this was the perfect illustrator for this project. Susan did let us weigh in on if we felt Sonia was a good fit -- but I believe that writers don't always have this opportunity.  After Susan went to work elsewhere, editor Grace Kendall took the helm, and we worked closely with Grace when we saw the first pass of illustrations from Sonia, to make sure that needed factual details were in place. But all other details were up to Sonia to interpret. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The diversity of the children in every page. As parents of biracial children ourselves, we couldn't be more thrilled about this!

Q. How long did GREEN GREEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer came in June 2014, and the book came out May 2017.  Yup, 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. GREEN GREEN was an unusual manuscript for me. It just flowed.  The editor asked us to add a bit more to the city building and the community garden building scenes, so a few more stanzas were written for that, but essentially it's not very different from its first draft.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Keep a notebook on hand at all times!  You never know when those essential truths will flow out. For me, my biggest ideas manifest themselves in the early morning, or on long walks.  If I don't catch them on paper, they sometimes fade like a wisp of smoke.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Support all of your local bookstores. Buy books there. Ask for advice about reads. Steer others to these stores. Buy books there as gifts, or purchase gift certificates. And support your library. Someday they will support you by stocking your books and hosting your events. More importantly, though, a vibrant network of bookstores and libraries means a sure way to grow readers. It's all about being a part of that community and making sure that community thrives.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished a magazine article for Writer's Digest, co-authored with my daughter, Cari Lamba, who is the newest agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (where I am an agent). Also, my next picture book, working title A DAY SO GRAY, has been picked up by Clarion, and I'm excited to see what illustrator is selected for that one. Other than that, I have a number of picture book ideas and a middle grade stewing away. I'm hoping to find some time to work on these over the summer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
Website: marielamba.com
Twitter: @marielamba
Facebook: Marie Lamba, Author
Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency: jdlit.com
Goodreads author page, too

Thanks so much for having me here, Karlin!
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WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE

Merman-turned-picture-book-writer Jason Gallaher will make a splash on July 18 with WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE—"A cracking whooooo-dunit" (Kirkus Reviews) and "a satisfying and rousingly silly read-aloud" (Publisher's Weekly). Inspired by titles that pop into his head, Jason shares the story behind his #firstpicturebook:

Q. Was WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. WHOBERT actually was the very first manuscript I ever wrote. However, I just recently found a first draft, and how WHOBERT looks today is not even close to how the manuscript originally looked (and I will never ever ever ever EVER let anyone look at that first draft. Lord and Taylor, was it a doozy). I was so intimidated by picture books at the time, but I really wanted to try my hand at them because they can be so move-you-to-tears beautiful or laugh-til-your-ribs-hurt funny.

Q. What inspired WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE ?
A. I typically write by titles, and one day while trying to get through a grad school paper on Shakespeare, the name just came to me. So I immediately put that paper aside and started thinking about who, who this owl detective was.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I really don't know how any of the titles come into my head. Titles are always the seed for a story idea for me. When a title pops into the jumbled mess of unicorns and merpeople and Anjelica Huston movies that typically inhabit my gray matter, I don't know what the story is that accompanies that title. It usually has to simmer a bit before the story follows.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My absolute favorite spread is when Whobert first discovers Perry the Possum lying awfully still, and pokes and pushes and pulls Perry to see if he's okay. That was in there from the beginning, but Jess Pauwels's illustrations are hysterical and really brought the moment to life! The first time I saw that spread I could not stop laughing!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In WHOBERT, I knew right away that I wanted to play off of the alliterative name scheme that picture book writers are often told not to do because it has been done so much, and it tends to lend itself to a kind of innocence that some consider hokey. That's exactly the type of hokeyness that I wanted because this is a *fake* murder mystery, and I thought names like Freddie the Frog give a sense of playfulness to the plot as Whobert accuses more and more of his neighbors of dastardly deeds.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. I thought third person served Whobert's story better because a narrator sort of gives Whobert a little credibility in his detective work. Whobert is a dunce detective, but he doesn't know it, and he really does want to do good in his community. I thought by having an omniscient narrator detailing his exploits, it would give this sort of subconscious recognition that at least somebody thinks Whobert's life is noteworthy even if he's not fully aware of his surroundings.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE?
A. I knew that Whobert misinterpreted events by thinking normal animal behavior was a crime, and I knew how that would be revealed at the end. But when I sat down to write the story, I didn't originally know the characters Whobert would accuse of committing crimes in the forest. It was really fun to discover those characters and how they respond to Whobert's claims.

Q. Did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. WHOBERT did receive a few rejections, but I was really, really, really lucky in that I only went on one round of submissions. My awesome agent (Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency) subbed to five editors. One of those was Annie Nybo, who actually saw WHOBERT and critiqued it at an SCBWI conference. She gave me some fantastic notes, and told me that if I decided to revise the manuscript I should feel free to submit the manuscript to her. I revised per her suggestions, and here we are now!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE.
A. I. Could. Not. Stop. Dancing. Literally. I was in my bathrobe having just gotten out of the shower when Trish called to tell me the good news. I danced around my house in that robe for what felt like hours. I called my partner, I called my parents, I called my brother, I sent out vibes to Oprah in hopes that she'd pick up on them and name WHOBERT as an official book club selection, and the whole time I was dancing.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I didn't have any input in selecting the illustrator for WHOBERT, and I'm so glad I didn't. Annie did such an amazing job of finding Jess Pauwels, and I could not be happier with the way our book looks. I was out at lunch with one of my closest friends (Bayne Gibby, who is also an author) when I got an email from Annie introducing me to Whobert, and I could not contain my excitement. While I was losing my head with joy, Bayne was present enough to snag a picture of the moment. I could not have a bigger smile. When I'm feeling the downs of the writer journey, I look at that picture to remind myself of how much fun writing for kids is, and that while there can be times that are frustrating, the good MAJORLY outweighs the bad.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. This is initially what went through my mind: "OH MY @%%#@ HE IS PERFECT LOOK AT WHOBERT CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS HOLY MOSES LORD AND TAYLOR AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

After that, I could not stop looking at all the facial expressions Jess created. She does such an amazing job at conveying Whobert's concern, his suspicion directed at all of his neighbors, and all of said neighbors' annoyance at being confronted by this very pushy owl. The raised eyebrows, the squinted eyelids, the wide-eyed surprise are all so outrageous in the best way!

Q. How long did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. From offer to publication will be two years and four months. I think he was so worth the wait!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Get your work critiqued! All the time! I know it's scary to have others look at your work, but those suggestions you receive will make your work sing!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. When you have a character in mind, find a list of questions typically asked in a job interview, and have that character answer them. You learn so much about your characters! A lot of what you write down won't make it into a manuscript, but you'll find little gems that are priceless and really help you get to the heart of your character's personality.

Q. What are you working on now?
I have a few picture book manuscripts on submission right now, as well as a middle grade fantasy-adventure that I really hope gets picked up because it's a world that I love! My current WIP is an #ownvoices YA manuscript about two gay teens getting to explore their relationship for the first time. It's been such an emotional process writing it, especially since my picture book writing tends to be humorous. Or at least I hope people find my PBs funny!

Q. Where can people find you? (Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.):
A. www.jasongallaher.com
www.youtube.com/c/JasonGallaher
@DraftingJason
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