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Q&A Blog

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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ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  

An illustrator and theater designer, Yevgenia Nayberg grew up left-handed in the former Soviet Union. This experience inspired her to write her #firstpicturebook. ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY is a Junior Library Guild Selection and "the story of coping with any society's rigid norms and finding avenues for self-expression. . . . so jovial and bighearted, you wish it upon all oppressed lefties" (Kirkus Reviews).


Q. What inspired ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY?

A. The book is loosely autobiographical and based on my childhood experiences growing up as a lefty in the former Soviet Union.

 

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

A. My original title was THE SECRET SOCIETY, but my publisher felt that it was important to introduce the character in the title. After much discussion, we arrived at the current title.

 

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

A. On the computer and on my smartphone.

 

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

A. My favorite part of the book is the ending, where Anya says good-bye to her Secret Society. It's a bittersweet moment and feels very personal to me.

 

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

A. That's an easy question! I have a difficult name for English speakers, so all I had to do is to pick an easy to pronounce short Russian name. Anya was the first name that came to mind. 

 

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

A. It helped to put more distance between myself and the character.

 

Q. Why did you write ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  in past tense?

A. It is the story from the past, so that seemed like a natural choice.

 

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

A. I wrote the story first, but I have a permanent collection of images in my head, an image bank if you will. Some of the images had already existed, they were just waiting for the right text.

 

Q. Did ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. I think it received around ten rejections and a couple of "yes" letters.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY.

A. A mix of excitement and relieve.

 

Q. How long did ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Almost 2.5 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. There was a storyline in the book about secret messages that Anya wrote using mirror writing—something that I do on occasion.  I really wish we kept it.

 

Q. When you read ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. This came as a surprise, but kids like the part in which I talk about the secret world inside Anya, that only the left hand could express. I thought this was a rather sophisticated passage and was so happy to see that kids got it.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY? If so, what kind?

A. I am still new to the marketing game and have not made any physical swag. I animated my own book trailer, which was a big project for me!

 

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

A. Learn to switch your attention to other projects!

 

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

A. Maybe an illustrator tip instead: storyboard everything and check for the flow of color throughout the book.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I am finishing up my next book, THE RUSSIAN TYPEWRITER ADVENTURE, which is coming out in 2020. I am also obsessively working on a new picture book about Mona Lisa, street art and New York City! 


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

A. My website is www.nayberg.org I am on Facebook as myself, and on Twitter and Instagram as @znayberg

 

View the book trailer for ANYA'S SECRET SOCIETY  

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The Remember Balloons — Winner of the 2019 Golden Kite Award

"I'd been recording my grandparents' histories on a voice recorder. Perhaps that had something to do with the turn my manuscript took—the voice recorder made the memories a solid, tangible thing I could put in my pocket."—Jessie Oliveros

 

Congrats to author Jessie Oliveros for winning the SCBWI's Golden Kite Award for her #firstpicturebook THE REMEMBER BALLOONS! To celebrate, I'm reposting her Q&A.

 

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Is is a Blog Birthday or a Bloggerversary? Either way, it’s time for a #Giveaway!

My blog is three years old this week—so let’s celebrate with a #giveaway! Enter for a chance to win my #firstpicturebook NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL and AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH. Thank you for reading and good luck!  Rafflecopter giveaway

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PEDRO'S PAN: A GOLD RUSH STORY

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.

Book trailer for PEDRO’S PAN

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The Full House and the Empty House


Illustrator L.K. James likes working with contrasting ideas and the idea that household objects can reflect a personality. Today she tells how she used these concepts to build her #firstpicturebook THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE—"an original, deftly crafted, and entertaining picture book story . . . certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library collections " (Midwest Book Review).

 
Q. Was THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE 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, but it was the first one I finished and the first I tried to get published. 

 

I don't remember what the first one I wrote was about, but at the time I wrote The Full House and the Empty House, I was interested in Aesop's Fables. I tried to write a handful of stories aimed at turning the form on its head. Stories that had some ambiguity and couldn't easily be boiled down to one glib moral. Most of these were very bad, but it was a very useful exercise. 

 

Q. What inspired THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE?

 A. At the time I was drawing a lot of household objects, and thinking about the role they play in our lives when we are young and old. How they project and inform our identity and how they often express our relationship with the material world. 

 

I was also playing with these personified houses with arms and legs who would eat dinner together and dance around and go walking through the forest. I liked the idea that the things inside a house-character could express their personality. 

 

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

 A. The title of the first draft was just "The Empty House." As the story evolved, it became less about that house and more about the two houses' relationship, so the titled evolved too.

 

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

A. My favorite scene to draw was all the stuff flying around inside the Full House when it dances. This was one of the images I wanted to draw from the beginning, so it was always in the first draft, and it never really changed because it was one of the images from which the rest of the story grew.

 

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

A. I wanted to avoid favoring either perspective of my two main characters, and that was most easily done in third person. I wanted this story also to feel outside of time, almost like a fable, so again the third person perspective felt appropriate. 

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE? 

A. At first, the whole story was just a few lines of prose: when the Full House danced, the beautiful things inside it jangled around, and when the Empty House danced, it could jump high into the air because it was so light on its feet. From that the rest of the story grew as I began to ask myself what this relationship meant and how it might be explored.

 

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

 A. The image of the houses and many of the objects in them had been floating around my sketchbook when I drafted the written version. The next step was thumbnailing, which brought them both together. Doing so changed the story a lot. The images pushed the narrative in unexpected directions, and the narrative brought out new images that hadn't been there before. 

 

Q. Did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

 A. Yes, plenty. I was lucky enough to pitch this book in person to Ripple Grove Press at a conference. As a bookmaker and printmaker, I was able to show the publisher a physical prototype of the full book during the pitch, and I think that was a big help. So much of my idea was already alive in the colors, the paper, the book design, and the printing process of my dummy. I think that it allowed them to trust my vision more easily than if I had emailed them a PDF of a storyboard or a written synopsis. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE.

 A. I was thrilled, of course, and grateful. But also nervous—it is my first book.

 

Q. How long did THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

 A. About a year and a half—the offer came after I pitched the book in August 2017, and the publication date is February 5, 2019.

 

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. In the first draft there was an image of a sandwich flying apart in mid-air inside the Empty House. I loved it because it was kind of funny, and sandwiches have always been one of my favorite things to draw. I ended up cutting it, though, because although it expressed the right action, it didn't express the right feeling for that moment in the story. 

 

Q. When you read THE FULL HOUSE AND THE EMPTY HOUSE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

 A. My favorite part of reading to kids is when they get lost in the details of the interiors—for example, there are these funny framed pictures of other houses hanging on the walls inside the characters, like family photos in a world where everyone is a house. There are little sub-narratives like that all throughout the book, and I love it when kids notice those.   

 

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

 A. Always be collecting ideas and don't be afraid of abandoning a story if it isn't working. I like to brainstorm ideas a lot, and then see what I'm still excited about the next day. I hate feeling trapped in a story I don't like, so I'm always trying to keep story-generation process as fluid as possible.

 

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

 A. Sometimes I force myself to write a new story start to finish in 30 minutes, then do that for ten days in a row. Most of it is junk, but it gets me thinking in unexpected ways and generates lots of raw material—which is far better than agonizing over the perfect story or staring at a blank page.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

 A. Right now, I'm working on a book about a duck who lives in a hotel and doesn't know what it's like to be outside in the wild. I like working with opposites or contrasting ideas (full/empty, inside/outside, wild/tame) and seeing what happens when you shake them up. 

 

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

 A. My work is on Instagram (@lkjamz) and my website (lkjames.com).

 


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THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Lindsay Leslie adores mechanical pencils, thinking up book titles, and breaking through the fourth wall. Today she talks with us about how these loves, along with a smushed book cover, contributed to the creation of her #firstpicturebook. “A winning story about handling the unknown and asking for help” (Publisher’s Weekly), THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS “will urge readers to be brave and turn the page” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS 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. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

Q. What inspired THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title picked me. One day, I walked into my youngest son’s room, and it was as if the idea pole-vaulted from the floor and into my ear. I had accidentally stepped on one of my son’s picture books, and thought, I just broke its spine. Then my mind zigged and zagged from this book has a spine to what if it were spineless to this book is spineless. I looked at my son and shouted, “This Book Is Spineless!” I couldn’t let the idea go. It kept begging me to write it. With the majority of my books, I need to have the title first before I can begin writing. It’s like knowing the name of a person. It leads me to where I need to go.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A mixture of both. I knock out my first draft on the computer and I edit on paper. I need to print it out and rip it up with my trusty mechanical pencil. I LOVE mechanical pencils.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The beginning. There is a page turn in this book that I adore, and I think it will grab the reader’s attention. And, no, it wasn’t in the first draft. The first draft of this book was a bonafide messy mess. In fact, someday I would love to share my first draft and show folks where a book can go with revision, the help of critique partners, and the golden touch of a fantastic editor!

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I told this story in first person, because I wanted the physical book, the book the reader is holding, to be the main character.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. None of it. And, again, my first draft was hideous. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but because I am a pantser (meaning, I don’t outline) I had to see where my mind would go with it. There were elements of the first draft I kept, but the manuscript changed a bunch. (Thank goodness.)

Q. Did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. For some reason, I did not traditionally query this manuscript very much. I did participate in a lot of hashtag events on Twitter, like #pitmad and #pbpitch, and did not get any favorites. I’d say I received 10 rejections on this piece. Overall, I’ve received about 35 rejections from agents on my work before I found representation.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS.
A. Oh, I loved this moment. I was at the cleaners picking up the dry cleaning. My older son, who was nine at the time, was at my side. My phone pinged, so I looked to see who sent me an email. All I had to read was the subject of the email. It read: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS Offer. I couldn’t speak. I just began to jump … and jump and jump and jump. Up and down. And then I started to point at my son and then I pointed at the lady behind the counter. All I could say was “YES! YES! YES!” My son began to jump with me and he said, “Mom, why are we jumping?” That was the most adorable thing. And then the tears started to roll. I will never forget that Jack Brown Cleaners, the look on the lady’s face behind the counter, which was somewhat of a bemused look, and the fact that my son will jump up and down with me before knowing why.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Page Street Kids is my publisher and I try to find all the words to express how wonderful and collaborative they are. I was provided with three illustrators to choose from, which worked great for me, as I was feeling more than overwhelmed. At this point, I was so focused on climbing the hill toward a book deal, my mind hadn’t worked through the scenarios of what happens once the book deal is signed. I received all the assurance from Kristen Nobles and Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids that there was no wrong choice. So, I went with the aesthetic I was drawn to most, and that was Alice Brereton’s dramatic, geometric, quirky, and colorful illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. What jumped out to me was the connection between Alice and me through my words and through her illustrations. It’s like we got each other and we had yet to meet. We were having a discussion through our preferred way to communicate. Me with words. Her with art. I trusted her implicitly and was blown away by her unique approach to the concept.

Q. How long did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer on June 27, 2017, and the book hits the shelves on Feb. 19, 2019. So, less than two years. It’s been a buckle-your-seatbelt-and-hold-on kind of ride.

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 almost had to change the title, but my editor and I worked on a compromise, so the title could remain. The title led me to the story, and I felt the title made the story and makes the book stand out. In terms of adding to the story, yes! My editor really pushed me to dig in with the voice of the character, as well as look deeper into my word choices and the impact on the overall story. A great editor, like Charlotte Wenger, will see how to make your story shine even brighter!

Q. When you read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Definitely the page turn at the beginning of the book.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS? If so, what kind?
A. I did. I have some temporary tattoos, because I think all kids should be wearing Alice Brereton’s art! I also have bookmarks and postcards, which will pull double-duty. Not only am I promoting THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, but also NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). NOVA is my second picture book, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, and will hit the shelves on May 21, 2019.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Only you can write you, so tune out the noise, focus on your craft, and enjoy the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite marketing tip is to participate and say yes. Be part of the writing community. Show up. When you show up, it shows you care and then opportunities begin to present themselves.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am diving back into a middle grade novel that I finished a draft of a year ago. It’s been speaking to me, and I’m also writing many new picture books. I can’t have just one project.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. Yes! I’m launching my book at my local indie bookstore, BookPeople. It’s on Feb. 23 from 2-3 p.m. for all you folks in Austin, Texas (https://www.bookpeople.com/event/lindsay-leslie-book-spineless). I’ll also be at TLA this year and part of the What’s New With Texas Picture Book Authors and Illustrators roundtable on April 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Find me, connect with me! I’m active on Twitter at @LLeslie, and I love to pay it forward by offering free picture book manuscript critiques there. I’m also on Facebook at @AuthorLindsayLeslie and kind of active on Instagram at LindsayLeslieWrites. And, please visit my website at lindsayleslie.com.

Thanks for having me, Karlin, and congratulations on SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER! I look forward to seeing it on the shelves in May!

If you have read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, please consider writing a review:
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21 children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts

Happy New Year! Next week I will post a new #firstpicturebook Q&A. Until then, if your 2019 resolution is to submit your unagented children’s book to publishers, check out my list of publishing companies that review unsolicited manuscripts. (Join SCBWI and you’ll receive The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children which includes a master list of children’s publishers and agents.)

Remember, you can’t control a publisher’s decision to acquire your book. But you can control meeting goals like submitting your work to publishers. So make sure your manuscript is submission-ready and start working on your resolution today!

Albert Whitman & Company

Arthur A. Levine Books

Boyd Mills Press

Cameron + Company

Charlesbridge

Chronicle Books

Creston Books

Dial Books for Young Readers

Enchanted Lion

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Flying Eye

Flashlight Press

Holiday House Books for Young People

Lantana

Lee and Low Books

Page Street Kids

Peachtree Publishers

Quarto

Ripple Grove Press

Sterling Publishing

Tilbury House

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Top 10 #firstpicturebook Tips of 2018

As 2018 winds down, I just want to say how grateful I am to all the writers who have contributed to this blog. I learn something new in each interview and hope you do too. I will be back next month with new Q&As for 2019. Until then, here are my favorite #firstpicturebook tips from 2018. Click on the author’s name to read the full interview.

Happy Holidays!

“I have a folder on my laptop of transcriptions of other peoples’s stories. When I’m sitting down to write, I might read through a few of them before I begin, so I can get into the rhythm of writing a picture book on one blank page, single-spaced. That has really changed how I write.”— Amanda Moeckel

“Participate in the kidlit community. It is an incredibly generous and supportive group of people! Volunteer for your local SCBWI conference. Join an online writing challenge. Review books on your blog. Give shout-outs on social media for deal announcements, book birthdays, awards, … anything! Don’t think of other kidlit folks as competitors. Think of them as cheerleaders. When you reach out, others reach back.”—Laura Renauld

“My favorite writing exercise is going for walks and making myself think on the story. What is working, what isn't, what will make your story slightly different. The mindful walk helps shape the story.”—Robert Broder

“If you are a debut author, find a debut group! If they are full, create another.”—Jessie Oliveros

“I attended my first kidlit conference in July 2016, and booked in for manuscript assessments with a couple of editors. I just wanted to get feedback to see if I was on the right track with my writing, but happily I actually got a contract from one of the editors I saw there. ”—Kellie Byrnes

“In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here). I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.”—Sarah Jane Marsh

“when you’re stuck on what to say, sometimes it can help to imagine you are writing a book for your own 8-year-old self. What book would have helped that kid? Or delighted them?”—Elizabeth Lilly

“Every year my critique group retreats to a cabin in Alabama for a writing weekend! We follow a schedule of working, eating, walking and critiquing each day. It has proven to be really productive AND fun!”—Shanda McCloskey

“one fun exercise is thinking of an awesome book title and what would be the cover for it. Sometimes that’s enough to come up with a complete story!”—Aura Lewis

“When I’m working on a piece, I ask questions like who, what, why, where, when and how over and over again. I always think universal — similarities and differences. Most times those questions are being answered while I pace back and forth talking out loud to myself.”— Baptiste Paul
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