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True Story Blog

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith (HarperCollins, September 18, 2018)
This week’s Q&A is a very special interview because it is with Kate Gardner—the editor of my #firstpicturebook. I’m so happy that after years of guiding other writers on their publishing journeys, she has now set off on her own. Published on September 18, LOVELY BEASTS “presents an interesting and focused subject in an exemplary manner” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “will do much for the reputations of some of our more maligned animals” (Booklist).

Q. Was LOVELY BEASTS 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 actually wrote a very simple concept book called SNOW FALLS before LOVELY BEASTS. Tundra Books will be publishing it, but it's been delayed re: finding the right illustrator.
Q. What inspired LOVELY BEASTS?
A. Agent extraordinaire, Kirsten Hall, sent me a piece of Heidi's Smith art and asked if I had any book ideas for it. I was thrilled, flattered, and jumped at the chance. I thought that a nonfiction approach with a twist would engage readers and help shatter stereotypes at the same time—for it’s impossible not to worry about the danger of misperceptions, now more than ever. And many of these misconceptions have led to the near-extinction of some of these beautiful animals.
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The project was originally called GENTLE BEASTS. But as my editor Alessandra Balzer pointed out, not all of the featured beasts could accurately be described as "gentle" . . . So we went for something a bit more subjective.
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book?
A. For my day job, I'm a children's book editor, and I've been lucky to work with many amazing writers on many fantastic books. For almost 15 years, I've worked with Sy Montgomery on her nonfiction projects and much of what I've learned from her, I've incorporated into LOVELY BEASTS.
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Heidi’s amazing art, of course! But I also love the simplicity of the book—all that negative space, large type, and pages turns. The page turns were something I felt strongly about and was happy when Alessandra and Heidi agreed that they helped create some tension and structure. And as an editor, while I never look for overt messages in books, I do hope that the idea of getting to know a person/place/thing before making a judgement call about it will be something that rises up naturally from LOVELY BEASTS and starts some conversations between readers.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. We had only one page to spare for back matter and we decided to include suggestions for further reading for both young and older readers.
Q. Did LOVELY BEASTS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Amazingly, we received a preempt from Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray (now I'm spoiled, even though I know that preempts are the exception to the rule!).
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY BEASTS.
A. My heart beat fast - very fast! I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly and while I'm familiar with the submission process from the editorial perspective, it was different to be on the other side of the desk. All I remember was that it was at night, I was sitting in the car in the driveway, and it was very cold—but Kirsten's call warmed me up quick.
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. LOVELY BEASTS is also Heidi Smith's debut and I think she's definitely an illustrator to watch. She is so incredibly talented and her art hasn't stopped giving me goosebumps since the first time I saw it.
Q. How long did LOVELY BEASTS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in January 2017 and the book is pubbing this month, so a little over 1.5 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. I originally had more beasts and had to cut a few to make the pagination work. One animal I was sad to omit from the original manuscript was pigs - because I do think that if you ask someone to describe pigs in 2 or 3 words, they're bound to say something like "filthy" or "disgusting." Which isn't actually true. Pigs are incredibly smart and bathe in mud as a way to keep cool (it also works as sunscreen). And much like cats, pigs keep their toilet area far away from their living and eating areas. There is even a population of pigs who live on Exuma Island in the Bahamas who are known for regularly swimming in the pristine waters there.
Q. Have you read LOVELY BEASTS to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Not yet! LOVELY BEASTS will be published on 9/18 and I'll have my first bookstore event on the 22nd (biting finger nails in anticipation).
Q. Did you create any book swag for LOVELY BEASTS? If so, what kind?
A. I have always loved making necklaces and I made a beast themed one for a giveaway/raffle, which is currently running on Instagram through Sept 17th.
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I think the next best practice for writing after writing itself, is reading. Reading and studying other picture books helps you figure out what you think works, what you think doesn't, and how that will inform your own approach. And if you're not also an illustrator, I think it's important to leave plenty of room for the art to meet the text and do its own storytelling.
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. For me, the thing that helps me generate new ideas is actually walking. So I walk most of my commute, which gives me time to mull ideas and approaches over — my brain just seems to work differently when I'm walking vs. sitting at a desk!
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, please provide details:
A. Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 22nd at 3 pm.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have another picture book coming out with B + B, IF YOU LIVE HERE, but we're still searching for an illustrator, so no pub date yet. And with the hot weather, I haven’t been walking on my commute as much – I need to hit the streets and start thinking about new ideas!
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I'm on Instagram @keaosullivan
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