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True Story Blog

What inspired these Halloween-friendly picture books?

Click to read entire Q&As by these #firstpicturebook authors:

Joy Keller: When my kids were little, they had very specific taste in books. My daughter only wanted to read Halloween books, and my son only wanted to read truck books. I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t someone written a book about monsters and trucks? It could be called MONSTER TRUCKS.” Bingo! There was my idea.

Ed Masessa: Like many of my generation, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie as a child. It was shown once a year on TV and it wasn’t until we got our first color TV that I realized that part of it was filmed in color. The flying monkey scene might have been terrifying if I hadn’t been so inquisitive. As they threw Scarecrow’s straw all around, I always wondered what happened to his bones. I thought it would be a cool tribute to my childhood imagination to create a scarecrow with a skeleton.

Miriam Glassman:My eldest daughter inspired this story when she was very young and said, “What if there was a queen who so mean, all she ever ate was burnt cupcakes?” At the same time, I was somewhat obsessed with the score from the Sondheim musical, Into the Woods, particularly the storyline of the witch and her attachment issues with her daughter, Rapunzel. Somehow, thoughts of Rapunzel came together with those of the burnt-cupcake eating queen. I turned her into a witch, and imagined her as the sister of the witch from Rapunzel. I wondered what would happen if that baby was left in the sister’s hands to raise. Though I didn’t consciously set out to write an adoption story, that’s what it turned out to be. Perhaps subconsciously, I was thinking about my two adopted nieces.

Abraham Schroeder : Around 2005 or 2006 I was working at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on a massive project to organize and catalog the collection of roughly 50,000 Japanese woodblock prints. Among them I found a charming image of bats and an umbrella from the 1880's by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Soon after that, the first little couplet started bouncing around in my head: "The gentleman bat, with his gentleman's cane, went out for a walk one night in the rain." The rhythms and ideas kept coming back to me, especially when I was out walking, gradually becoming more complex and interesting, and eventually I started writing all the bits and snippets down so I could start shaping them into a cohesive story.
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On Joy Keller's website, she writes that her weirdest experience was "getting chased down the street by an angry pig." Sounds like a great picture book! Until that happens, read the story behind her #firstpicturebook MONSTER TRUCKS (available August 29!):

Q. Was MONSTER TRUCKS 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’ve written lots of picture books over the years, and MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t my first. My very first was about a cooking dragon. It stunk, and my critique group wasn’t afraid to let me know (in much gentler terms, of course). It was the first of many learning opportunities on my writing journey! I think I still have the original manuscript hand-written in a notebook.

Q. What inspired MONSTER TRUCKS?
A. When my kids were little, they had very specific taste in books. My daughter only wanted to read Halloween books, and my son only wanted to read truck books. I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t someone written a book about monsters and trucks? It could be called MONSTER TRUCKS.” Bingo! There was my idea.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. In this case, the title came first. It was the easiest part.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. It was too much fun writing about each monster! And all the monsters in the book were in the first outline I wrote except for the mummies. They came later because, as my agent at the time said, the story just needed some mummies.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person? 
A. The whole book is basically a list poem, so this wasn’t an issue for me to even consider.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONSTER TRUCKS? 
A. All of it! I had the idea, but the big challenge was making that idea into a fun, playful rhyme. There were nights where my brain wouldn’t shut off as I lay in bed wondering, “What rhymes with debris?” or “Why couldn’t Minotaur have one more syllable?”

Q. Did MONSTER TRUCKS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Of course! I would say at least twenty, maybe more.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONSTER TRUCKS.
A. I won’t lie. There was a lot of jumping up and down and cheering.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. None at all, which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I saw Misa Saburi’s adorable illustrations. She can make anything (even monsters!) look cute.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Everything—I love Misa’s style. Let’s just say that the picture of the witch driving the street sweeper made me the happiest author in the world!

Q. How long did MONSTER TRUCKS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took almost three years. Publishing is a slow process, but the end result is totally worth it.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write. A LOT. I think of my picture book manuscripts as baby sea turtles. They aren’t all going to make it—that’s the sad reality of the business—but I can always have more manuscripts that might work the next time around. So stay busy!

Now I know I’m breaking the rules here, but I’d say my #1 ½ tip is to join a critique group. You need writing friends to help solve those pesky manuscript problems that you just can’t solve yourself. (Then you’ll also have a group to help you celebrate when your book gets published!)

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I tend to work on multiple things at one time. I have a nearly wordless book for which I’m creating a dummy, a comic-book style science book, and another fun rhyming story.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is joykellerauthor.com, and you can find me on Twitter @jrkeller80.
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