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True Story Blog

DOLL-E 1.0

Shanda (rhymes with panda) McCloskey’s #firstpicturebook was inspired by watching her inventive daughters play with their toys and was later named by her husband. Now this family-made creation comes out May 1 and today she shares the nuts and bolts of DOLL-E 1.0—“an engaging story, arguing for the marriage of technology with creativity and play” (Kirkus Reviews ) and “an enjoyable romp for readers, whether they’re plugged in or not” (Booklist).

Q. Was DOLL-E 1.0  the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Hmm. I think this was probably the 3rd or 4th picture book I spent real time on. For a few of those, I was stuck on writing about how making art was similar to cooking with ingredients. The idea sounded fun, but it wasn’t when I actually wrote it. I still remember the looks on my writer friends’ faces when I finished reading my drafts aloud… poor guys, they had to tell me how bad it was without breaking my spirit. I guess, they succeeded, because I’m still here. :)
Q. What inspired DOLL-E 1.0?
A. One day, I was playing dolls and stuffed animals with my two-year-old daughter who naturally liked books and movies with robots in them. While we played, she said her doll was a robot. And that idea just flew all over me! I ran to write it down, and the next few weeks I researched robot picture books to see if this idea had been played out before. To my surprise, it hadn’t. And not only that, but ALL the robot-themed books I found in that time were made with boy readers in mind. A robot book with girl-appeal was missing!
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. My husband, Ben, came up with this title. I loved it from the moment he said it, and I was lucky that my editor at Little Brown, Andrea Spooner, liked it too!
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A little of both, actually.
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. This is the original image from which the story of DOLL-E 1.0 was born. Waaaaay before I had a agent or an offer, I wanted to draw tools, intense creating, plans, and mechanical parts, so I did. And aside from a few detail additions, this original image appears in the book!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. As I drew her, I thought the girl looked like a “Charlotte” and after I had called her that for so long, it stuck! I think it’s a strong, classic, yet cool and revived, female name.
“Blutooth” was a fun discovery! But legally we couldn’t use the trademarked spelling: Bluetooth. So, we took out the E. We also toyed with the idea of calling him “Megabyte”, but Blutooth rolled off my tongue much easier when I read my story aloud - which I will probably be doing a lot. :)
“Doll-E” was the first character to be named. An electronic play-on name for a dolly!
Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I tried both ways, but third person with some dialogue seemed the best fit.
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DOLL-E 1.0 ?
A. I thought I knew most of it, but as I mention in another answer below, just about ALL of it changed once I got better acquainted with my kid/kid-like characters.
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. Characters seem to come first, then I try to find their story, then I toggle between art and story in the dummy process. I take away, add, or rework until it feels close to right. I think I made 7 different dummies for DOLL-E 1.0 before I settled where I did.
Q. Did DOLL-E 1.0  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Earlier versions of DOLL-E 1.0 got rejected 6 times, but some of these rejections had valuable feedback attached that resulted in good changes!
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DOLL-E 1.0 .
A. It was so flipping exciting! DOLL-E 1.0 went to auction with 4 offers! It was like the movies where I was always near my phone waiting on an update from my agent. I may never experience excitement like this over one of my books again, but I’ll surely NEVER forget it!
On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I’d won the lottery either. I felt like I had worked hard for this moment, and I still had a lot of work ahead of me once I accepted one of the offers.
Q. How long did DOLL-E 1.0  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About a year and a half. I received offers in January 2017 and DOLL-E 1.0 is set to be on shelves May 1st, 2018. It was put on a “rushed” schedule because of the popular girl/tech subject. We didn’t want to be late to the party, so to speak.
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. When I started writing DOLL-E 1.0 I had some beautiful themes/messages about what technology can’t replace that I was trying to write a story around. But, as I got to know my characters better as kids, I found that my “themes” were actually very grown-up thoughts. It was tough to let go of my lovely (but didactic) ideas and remember how my mind worked when I was a kid.
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture books writers?
A. Just keep plugging along ... working, reading, learning new things, trying new things, meeting people … and you WILL eventually see fruits from your labor. :)
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. 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!
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Currently, I’m working on a companion story to DOLL-E 1.0 where you’ll meet Charlotte’s neighborhood friends including Lucas and his drone named T-Bone!
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, etc.)
Web: shandamc.com
Instagram: @shandamccloskeydraws
Twitter: @shandamccloskey
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Katrina Goldsaito worked as TV journalist and producer in Tokyo and is currently writing a YA novel. But today she tells us how she created her first picture book, THE SOUND OF SILENCE—"An inviting tale that will stretch inquisitive and observant young minds—and may even lead children to a greater appreciation of that golden commodity, silence" (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THE SOUND OF SILENCE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?)
A. THE SOUND OF SILENCE was somewhere in a pile of ten manuscripts that my partner and I decided to write in ten days. Every night after my epic days as a TV Journalist in Tokyo for NHK-World, I’d come home and write a picture book. We’d sit on the floor and I’d write a page and hand it to him to illustrate. Every day for ten days. A very early (and nearly unrecognizable) draft came out during that creative sprint.

Q. What inspired THE SOUND OF SILENCE?
A. The story is one my father told us growing up—of a musician who was also my dad’s neighbor (and who I later found out was the famous contemporary composer Toru Takemitsu) told my father that his favorite sound was the sound of silence.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It was such a long process! There were emails! And committees! And brainstorms! And I still am not sure about it—mostly because when you google it you get Simon and Garfunkel. (Who I love).

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. That’s such a wonderful question, because I love the end, and your follow-up question is making me realize that the ending is the heart of the story. The heart was there in some form even in the earliest drafts. Rewriting was all about revealing the heart, all about making sure that every piece of the story is beating along with it—but it was there all along (just like the silence that little Yoshio finds!)

Also, I love Julia’s aerials in the spread with the family eating and Yoshio taking a bath, gorgeous. (And the bamboo grove. And the end. And EVERYTHING. Juliaaaaaa!!!!)

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Yoshio is my dad’s name, and your question is making me realize that no one else has names in the book!!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Hmm, I never thought about telling it in anything but third. (Just as the novel I’m working on can’t seem to be in anything but first). I think it’s about how it appears in my imagination—the voice is clear to me from the beginning.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SOUND OF SILENCE?
A. Originally the story had a few focuses—one of which was that the boy was always late to school (That got completely jettisoned, thank goodness), the other was that he was connecting with different traditional artisans, which was focused into the one character of the koto player. Bethany Strout was the genius behind making her a woman—one of my favorite changes that came with art.

Q. Did THE SOUND OF SILENCE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn’t. Though I did work with Alvina Ling at Little, Brown for almost a year before it went to acquisitions. I learned everything in that year, it was such an incredible gift, that mentorship.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SOUND OF SILENCE.
A. Tears. :)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. A lot! I was very lucky that this was such a collaborative process and the editorial team was so respectful and interested in my thoughts on illustrators. We had such a similar vision for the book, and we all knew that Julia was and is the perfect artist to create Yoshio’s illustrated world.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Those last pages. Ohhh, I love them so much. In those last pages when he finds silence I feel like Julia and I are so perfectly in sync. I still get a little teary when I read them.

Q. How long did THE SOUND OF SILENCE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 5 years! 6 if you count the year before it sold. I loved that it took so long. I loved working on other projects and knowing it was in the wings waiting, and telling people about it and preparing for it to show up in the world. I wouldn’t have sped it up at all.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (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. Not a single thing.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write what you love, write something that you want to spend a long time with (because it can take a long time) and be relentless in your love of the book and your love of the craft. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. That ten books in ten days exercise was amazing. Just committing to creating no matter what happened: no matter if we were tired or bored or feeling insecure, that we would make no matter what.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm performing at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco (Om I'm Home) where I'm pouring tea for visitors in my own version of a Japanese tea ceremony. We continue to make WeDokiDoki. A new picture book is with my editor, my first YA novel, Otemba is nearly ready for submission; and I am always lovingly dipping into a memoir project called The Last Speaker of a Secret Language.

To learn more about Katrina and her projects, visit her here or on Twitter at @inlovethere
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Laban Carrick Hill is the author of more than twenty-five books, including National Book Award Finalist HARLEM STOMP! and the "completely awesome" (Time) WHEN THE BEAT WAS BORN . Today he shares the story behind his first nonfiction picture book, DAVE THE POTTER .

Q. What inspired you to write the nonfiction picture book, DAVE THE POTTER?

A.I’m a gadfly and show up at all kinds of events and conferences where I wouldn’t normally belong. I’m curious about everything. In 2002 I went to a Middle Passage Conference back. Though most of the presentations were boring and very academic, there was one presentation about African influence in African American art. (I tell this in more detail in the back matter of my book.) At one point during the presentation, a slide went up with a pot that had a poem written on it’s side. I had never heard of this potter poet, and I found the poem powerful and moving. I wrote the name and the poem down without any intention of writing a picture book. I just found his story fascinating.

Q. What kind of resources did you use while researching DAVE THE POTTER?

A. When I went home, I started researching Dave online. I found almost nothing on him. There was one exhibition catalog and one or two academic articles, but no books. No one knew much about him. I ordered the catalog and in the back was a list of poems. The poems were skillful and thoughtful in a way that resonated through the centuries the way good poetry does. I saw the kinds of 19th century themes that are prevalent in Whitman and Dickinson as well as themes that were unique to him and his circumstances. It inspired me to want to start a conversation with Dave and his work so I began writing a poem, not a children’s poem, but just a poem. I brought it to my poetry writers’ group and we workshopped it. All the members of the group are published poets. In addition, I have a MFA in Poetry from Columbia University School of the Arts. Over the decades I’ve studied with three Nobel Prize Winning poets and seven Pulitzer Prize winning poets.

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

My favorite part of the book is the spread where Dave spread his arms out and hanging from the limbs of the tree behind him, like a bottle tree, is the history of African American culture. What makes this illustration so wonderful and why it works so well with the words is that Brian doesn’t just literally represent the images I describe in my words, which is about Dave curling up in a ball in the pot and being embraced. Rather, he takes the spirit of that embrace and opens it up to reveal the breadth and width of African American existence. The way image and words have a conversation on this spread is what the best of picture books do. There is no failure of imagination, which is the case in so many picture books, even good ones.

This was part of the early drafts of the poem, but not exactly as it appears in the book. I wrote around 30 or more drafts of this poem. It took many different permutations. At one point it was rhymed couplets because I couldn’t figure out how to turn this into a kids’ picture book. There are two similes that I put in the poem that made it clear to me that I was finally reaching my audience. They were “like a magician pulling a rabbit out of hat” and “as fast as a carnival’s wheel of fortune.” When I got to those similes I knew I had found the right voice for the piece.

Q. How did you decide where to start and end this nonfiction story?

This was certainly one of the biggest challenges for me. But this is the case for every book I write. I always start with big ideas and huge ambitions. The thought of trying to represent slavery and create a discussion about slavery—and the long history of terror, rape, slavery, and murder that America is built on—made for some very long drafts of the poem. It wasn’t until I decided to just let Dave’s actions as a potter be a kind of massive metonymy/synecdoche for the larger themes that the poem really began to come together. What he does and who he is—his on-the-ground life, his massive pots, his poems—told that larger message without me mediating it with my words. In fact, I think it would have diminished the book—as well as been patronizing—if I had tried to do something like that. I can’t speak for Dave. I—and anyone else for that matter—can barely interpret his life with the few, random clues that have been left behind.

Q. Did you receive any rejection letters when you submitted this story to publishers? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. The book was rejected by 12 major publishers including Little Brown, its final home.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DAVE THE POTTER.

A. Editors did not get interested in the book until Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance was a 2004 National Book Award Finalist. It was while I was down in NYC for the awards ceremony when my agent started to receive revived. Then Scholastic, Hyperion, and Little Brown came back to my agent with concrete offers, which were significantly higher than either I or my agent had imagined before the recognition for Harlem Stomp! I even received an email from the publisher at Hyperion at the time who told me that my poem had made her cry.

I ended up choosing Little Brown, even though they had originally rejected the book, because of the way they promoted Harlem Stomp! and really put their weight behind it. I had had the opposite experience with both Scholastic and Hyperion in the past with books of mine that they published.

The best publishing houses that I have worked with over the years have been Little Brown and Roaring Brook, who published When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop. But you have to remember publishing isn’t like it was thirty years ago when a publisher would get behind you and stick with you. Now, every time I put a book on the market it’s like I’m beginning all over again for the first time.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?

A. I was very involved in choosing the illustrator. My wife at the time had been in charge of choosing illustrators for Sports Illustrated magazine as well as other publications. She had also designed Harlem Stomp! and America Dreaming. So we had many discussions with the art director and editor. Bryan Collier was ours and Little Brown’s first choice right off, but it turned out he was booked. LB wanted to choose a top African American illustrator, but all of them had contracts for illustrating books several years in advance, and some were no longer illustrating books with African American themes and content. Then, in 2008, four years after LB purchased the book, Bryan Collier contacted LB that he was now free. One of his books dropped out, and he would like to illustrate Dave. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic. The work he did on Dave lifted that book from the mere mortal stratosphere to the immortal.

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

A. The title picked itself. Dave the Potter was so evocative on its own, and that was his name. He was called Dave the Potter. The subtitle took a little thinking. We knew we wanted those three words but what order. Then we decided to create a natural hierarchy with the most important word, Artist, first, the second most important word, Poet, second, and the third most important word, Slave, last. I think we all knew that we did not want to privilege “slave” over “artist” or “poet.”

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the finished book?

A. Bryan Colliers illustrations. A picture book is not a word book. The words in a picture book need to serve the illustrations, not the other way around, even though the illustrations would not exist if not the words had been written first. What I tried to do was provide artfully descriptive language that would be a springboard for the illustrator to do their thing. It was humbling for me to see how Bryan responded to my words in such an imaginative and original way. I feel like Bryan and I had a real conversation.

Q. How long did DAVE THE POTTER take to be published--from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. The manuscript was bought at the end of 2004 and was published in the fall of 2010. A long time.

Q. If you could reprint the book today, is there anything you would change? (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. No, I think the book speaks for itself. There have been times when I have received my copies of my published book in the past and I have sat down and completely rewritten the book for my own satisfaction. Dave the Potter was not one of those books.

Q. At readings of DAVE THE POTTER, which part of the book received the best reaction?

A. The gatefold. They way it functions is a lot of fun to read. I make it a big deal when I get to it.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?

A. Well, I hear from a lot of people who want to write picture books. They somehow think it is easier to write a picture book than a novel. I’m always reminded of Blaise Pascal’s famous quote, “Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” Because you are publishing on 700-1000 words or less, you have to worry over these words more than anything else you could ever write. To do that, you need to follow some advice I received from the Pulitzer Prize Winning poet Ellen Bryan Voigt, “Well, you need to put your butt in the chair every morning and write. It’s a job and you need to show up for it every day.” I have known a number of writers who are much more talented than me, but did not follow that advice. They no long write.

To learn more about Laban's books, visit his website.
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