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True Story Blog


Driving past a seltzer factory, Casey W. Robinson saw something that inspired her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us how she travelled from that moment of inspiration to the publication of IVER & ELLSWORTH —“an original and unfailingly entertaining picture book" (Midwest Book Review), “sure to be a bedtime favorite.” (BookPage).

Q. Was IVER & ELLSWORTH the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Definitely not! I wrote many (terrible) picture book manuscripts before Iver & Ellsworth. They all sit very neatly in a file marked OLD on my computer.

Q. What inspired IVER & ELLSWORTH?
A. I was on a road trip with my family and we drove past the Polar Seltzer factory in nearby Worcester, MA. The factory has a rooftop bear, which we’ve driven past many times. But this time as we waved to the bear I thought, I wonder what this bear’s name is and what kind of life he leads… this would make a great story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was the obvious choice!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Mostly on the computer because it’s fast and I constantly fiddle with words as I write. But I take notes on paper whenever I think of a phrase, first line, bit of dialog etc so there are scraps of paper all over my house and tucked into pockets of clothing and jackets.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The two-page spread that begins “Before he returns to work, Iver always makes sure that Ellsworth looks his best.” This was in the first draft. I just love the way Melissa pulled it all into one spread.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. “Iver” was easy – it felt like it suited his character, an older name, uncommon but not too quirky. (I have a list of names I like that I keep for characters yet to be created.) Originally the bear’s name was Orson. But as that is the trademarked name of the Polar Seltzer bear, my editor and I brainstormed new names – he liked “Ellsworth” because of the character in Deadwood, and I liked it because it's a town in Maine near where I grew up.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. Third person provided the right distance from which to observe this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing IVER & ELLSWORTH? 
A. I knew the beginning – both the setting and how to establish their deep friendship. But I had no idea how it would end! I wrote and re-wrote many different endings before I settled on one that felt right. And then we changed it again during revisions.

Q. Did IVER & ELLSWORTH receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Actually, no. Ripple Grove Press was my first submission. I took a long time to assess which publisher would be the right fit for the story. Also: I’ve received plenty of rejections since then!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on IVER & ELLSWORTH.
A. Ecstatic. I remember jumping up and down in my kitchen with excitement and the stunned looks of delight on my three daughters’ faces as they watched me and wondered what on earth was happening.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. Rob and I had a few in-depth conversations about general art direction. I sent him the names of a few illustrators whose style felt similar to what I had in mind for IVER & ELLSWORTH. We were definitely on the same page and I felt very comfortable when he said I’d hear from him once he had signed the illustrator.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I saw the very first sketch of the characters, my first reaction was “Of course!” I didn’t know Iver wears a cap and has a mustache, but of course he does. I had the same reaction when I saw the jacket cover – Of course. It’s perfect.

Q. How long did IVER & ELLSWORTH take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two 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. We turned a good portion of what I’d written for the second half of the book into wordless spreads, so I edited out probably ~150 words. But for good reason – that part of the book is now much more powerful because you get to experience it visually alongside the main characters.

Q. When you read IVER & ELLSWORTH to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When the wordless spreads begin, kids usually lean right in to see what’s happening. The scene where Ellsworth is next to the Dinosaur billboard seems to be a crowd pleaser.

Q. Did you create any book swag for IVER & ELLSWORTH? If so, what kind?
A. I did – bookmarks, post cards and stickers. For my book launch event I also got balloons printed with Ellsworth on one side, which I love!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read as much as possible – all types of picture books, old and new. And don’t limit yourself to picture books: novels, graphic novels, poetry -- be insatiably curious about words and the art of storytelling.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Marketing tip: Spend time helping to promote other authors and the books you love – write online reviews or reviews on your blog, post book covers on social media, retweet news of deals or book launches. The kidlit community is fueled by this kind of reciprocity; it will come back around when it’s your turn to celebrate.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Many more picture book manuscripts. I have about 6 that are in various stages of revision.

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

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