Elementary school teacher Matthew Lasley grew up fishing, mushing dogs, and panning for gold in Alaska. After writing a traditional biography of Alaskan miner Felice Pedron, an unlikely narrator popped into Matthew’s head and transformed his #firstpicturebook into a humorous and playful one. Debuting February 19, PEDRO'S PAN “is sure to appeal to educators, especially those teaching about the various gold rushes in western American history...[and] the amusing adventures of Pan and Pedro hold broad appeal for read-alouds with many and varied audiences beyond the classroom. A sweet little nugget of a story" (Kirkus Reviews).
Q. Was PEDRO'S PAN 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. My first story was bad….real bad. It has potential, but it is sitting in a drawer waiting to be reshaped into something greater. This was, however, my second or third story.
Q. What inspired PEDRO'S PAN?
A. My family grew up mining in the interior of Alaska and in the Klondike. Felix Pedro, whom the story is based on, was a prominent prospector of legend having founded the last great gold rush of the Americas in Fairbanks. We drove by his monument every time we went to town.
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I am a fan of alliteration. It makes things more memorable. I had the two characters and they both started with "p". The subtitle "A Gold Rush Story" was added on by the publisher to clarify the theme of the story.
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I do both actually. Most of my work is done on a computer, but I do like to generate ideas on paper. It is faster and messier and without needing to be organized. When I am brainstorming, I am pretty messy and working on more than one thing at a time.
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the vulnerability of Pan and his struggle with his identity. That was not part of the original story. The original story was written as a biography of Felix Pedro. That wasn't working, then one day, after letting the story rest, Pan's voice popped into my head and I told the story from his point of view and that made the story.
Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Pedro was a real person. While we know him as Felix Pedro, he was an immigrant named Felice Pedroni. Many of the other prospectors that he worked with came from the western gold fields and morphed his name into the Spanish version we know today. Pan is a gold pan, but Pan went better with Pedro, so that is how I got the names.
Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I wanted to find a way to explain the process of prospecting and panning without being didactic. I found that when I gave the story to Pan, he was able to explain in his words what he was trying to do. His voice is one of innocence and uncertainty, which I felt that children could identify with.
Q. Why did you write PEDRO’S PAN in the present tense?
A. Since Pan is telling his story, I wanted the readers (children) to understand how Pan was feeling. Feelings can be unreliable when told in the past tense because you already know the outcome. Pan never directly says how he feels, but since the story is taking place now, the readers can empathize and infer.
Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it?
A. I had written a 1500 word biography as an outline. This story sprung from that when I changed it from a biography to a fictional story. When I wrote this story, it literally poured out. I had brainstormed a couple of things and knew where I wanted it to go, so I let it.
Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I had written a lot for the back matter and presented some of it to my publisher. My editor asked to see it and said that they wouldn't likely be able to use it all, but asked to see all that I had. When she saw it, she asked if I could condense a couple of things as she wanted the biography of Felix Pedro, instructions on how to pan for gold, and fun gold facts.
Q. Did PEDRO'S PAN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. This is the crazy thing — this was my first submission to a company of my very first story. Everything fell into place for this. I submitted the biography to be critiqued at a local SCBWI conference and got some good feedback. About six months later I submitted the current story to our local SCBWI spring writing retreat and had my manuscript read by a prolific local children's book author, Tricia Brown. She had once worked as an acquisitions editor, and after reading my story, told me I needed to submit it to Graphic Arts Books. They happened to be opening back up their Alaska Northwest Books imprint and were looking for children's books. I was able to get in on the ground floor and had no delays in getting into a print cycle, so from acquisition to release was about 18 months!
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on PEDRO'S PAN.
A. I was elated. I felt so blessed. God had brought my wife into my life to help me reach my writing goal, then He found me a champion for my story who got me in at the right place at the right time.
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. None. My publisher had an idea. I did let them know what kind of work I wanted to see, or more specifically what I did not want to see.
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was amazed. My vision was limited and when I saw what Jacob Souva did, I was so excited. His attention to detail and color was fantastic.
Q. How long did PEDRO'S PAN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Just over a year and a half. The editing went quickly and Jacob was excited and pumped out some great early work which helped speed up the process.
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 was lucky and there was not a whole lot that had to be changed. I trusted my editor to suggest changes she felt were needed. Most of it was structure to tighten it up a bit.
Q. When you read PEDRO'S PAN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The part where Pan feels he is a fools gold pan usually gets a big "awww" and they really like the picture of him sliding down a mountain.
Q. Did you create any book swag for PEDRO'S PAN? If so, what kind?
A. My wife helped me design small pins as well as bookmarks. We did the pins first to hand out at conferences and the bookmarks after we received the final pictures and some of our first reviews.
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I know you are excited about your story and think it is great (and it is by the way), but you need to get advice from other writers by joining critique groups. Then let your story set for a couple of months and focus on other things so that when you come back to it, you have a fresh set of eyes.
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Everyone has different methods of writing. What I like to do is enter in small contests that challenge me to write frequently and concisely. Many blogs and sites usually have them during various holidays. Susanna Leonard Hill usually does them and they are quite fun. She also gives people the opportunity to practice the pitches. I like to respond to them and think of how I would pitch this story having never read it. These things help me sharpen my skills and keep me actively producing.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a sci-fi that is stalled. I have a middle grade that is in the revision stage. I have a chapter book series that is going out on submission to editors. I have a few picture books that are being pitched to agents. But a lot of my time and energy outside of work is going to the launch of Pedro's Pan.
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. I am a school teacher and I am going to do a book launch at my school. It will be a part of our Family Literacy Night at Lake Otis Elementary on February 19th. Then that weekend, I am planning to do a book signing at our local Barnes and Noble, details still forthcoming on that.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. My website is www.matthewlasley.com
On twitter at @Lasley_Matt
And wandering the creeks during the summer looking for a little gold in my pan.