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True Story Blog

Spring back for inspiration

Today is April 2nd and it’s snowing here in Connecticut! So I’m going to look back at some #firstpicturebooks that promise warmer weather and inspire me to keep writing . . . instead of hiding under the covers like my dog Ellie. Click on each book title to read the complete #firstpicturebook Q&A:

“I've always loved spending time outside. When I was young I think I took this connection to the natural world for granted. I didn't realize that you really have to hang onto that, or the busyness of life will take over. With my own kids I've tried to encourage outdoor play and a sense of wonder for nature, in both big and little ways. I think all of this was in the back of my mind as I wrote FINDING WILD. I wanted to celebrate nature and the special connection kids--and, really, all of us--can experience when we take the time to notice the beauty and wild all around us.”

“One of my favorite parts of the book is the surfing spread where it shows a girl surfing. Not only is it wonderful to showcase girls in sports, but this young girl is clearly experienced enough to be able to surf “toes-on-the-nose” style. I remember this phrase coming to mind after I had been working on the manuscript for quite a while.”

“It was inspired by a nature walk I took with my daughters, who were then 6 and 8. They were not especially keen on walks at that time, so we decided that, to liven things up, we would take a stroll through our local nature preserve while being on the lookout for spots where fairies might be hiding. From there the story took on a life of its own - and the result is as you see it!”

“One day, while walking my dogs, I found the milkweed along the side of our quiet road had been mowed. Milkweed is vital to monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars were clinging to the drying plants. Seeing this was upsetting. The monarchs are in trouble, and I wanted to share their story.”

“My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.”

“I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world.... So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...”

“I've always loved to swim and remember clearly learning to jump off the diving board. I try to write stories about moments that are relatable to kids and that one stuck out for me.”

“My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.”

“The idea for the story came while playing outside in the rain with my children. They were so happy running in rain, splashing in pools of water and rolling in the dirt.”

“I spent three months researching daily everything I could about pollen, forest animals, black bears. I dug up every creature that eats pollen, wrote to vetters to double check the science. I hiked through a few national parks and pine forests, visited live bears in New Hampshire, observed a large honeybee hive at the Boston Museum of Science, and constantly researched bees pollinating flowers everywhere I could. I also contacted beekeepers, and went to multiple butterfly conservatories.”
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Making a list and checking it twice . . .

Santa’s not the only one who likes a good list. Below are links to lists from 11 picture-book authors—from “500 Things That Kids Like” and “7 Steps to Writing Success” to “18 Ideas for a Successful Book Launch” and “10 Reason’s I’m Thankful for Children’s Books”. I’m grateful that these writers have contributed to my Q&A blog (click on author’s name above to read their #firstpicturebook interview) and that the KidLit community is so generous with their advice and support. Happy Writing and Happy Holidays! See you in 2018!

Tara Lazar’s List of 500 Things That Kids Like

Tracy Marchini’s How Can You Tell If You’re Using Picture-Book Language

Marie Lamba’s 7 Steps to Writing Success

Rebecca Grabill’s How to Promote Your First Picture Book

Josh Funk’s Marketing Strategies

Sylvia Liu’s 18 Ideas for a Successful Book Launch

Chana Steifel’s 5 Writing Lessons I Learned from an Ironwoman

Lauri Fortino’s Tending Your Story Garden

Jami Gigot’s Creating Picture Books As An Author/Illustrator

Deborah Freedman’s Resources for Writers and Illustrators of Picture Books

Katey Howes’ 10 Reason’s I’m Thankful for Children’s Books:

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YA author and literary agent Marie Lamba wrote her first picture-book manuscript 30 years ago but it wasn't until this past May that a different manuscript became her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us all about GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY—“an attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening” (School Library Journal) that she co-wrote with her husband, landscape architect Baldev Lamba.

Q. Was GREEN GREEN 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 very first picture book manuscript I wrote was a monstrosity call MONKEY FEET AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES. That was about 30 years ago. Actually it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't a picture book either. More of a schtick -- you know, a quirky idea that didn't really go anywhere.  I subbed it around and was rejected widely.

Q. What inspired GREEN GREEN?
A. My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. GREEN GREEN is a phrase used throughout the story. The subtitle: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY was added by the people at Macmillan to give it a solid hook for book buyers interested in this type of gardening.
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For this book, I wrote long-hand in a notebook that I always keep on my bedside. It may or may not have been written around 4 a.m. or so!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the way the land changes throughout the story, becoming a character in a way. And that was always there in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. Actually the book is part rhyme and part prose, and the hope was that this made it a read that would flow and feel lyrical without feeling forced. Repetition plays its part in the story because I really wanted to show how in every stage, the land was changed in a similar way.  Digging made a small garden grow. Digging (with machinery) made a large city grow. And digging with the help of the community, brought a green space back to the city.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GREEN GREEN? 
A. I have to admit, I just started writing, and the story grew and grew!

Q. Did GREEN GREEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. While my first book (the MONKEY FEET one) garnered quite a huge slew of rejections, GREEN GREEN was picked up right away by an editor who happened to love community gardening.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GREEN GREEN.
A. It was a serious thrill!  And, while I have published several YA novels, this is my first picture book -- which makes it very special. And it is the first book my husband has ever had published -- so he was very kid in the candy store.

Q. What was it like working with your husband who is your co-author?
A. Over the years, Baldev and I have co-authored a number of garden-related articles for magazines including Garden Design, Your Home and Gardens & Landscapes. But this was an entirely different realm for us as a team. He trusted my ear when it came to the language throughout the book. I trusted his experience when it came to pulling together the back matter, which points to ways kids can be GREEN GREEN and can help threatened Monarch butterflies and honeybees.  Baldev was especially helpful in pointing out things that could be in the abandoned urban lot, or that needed to be present in the garden. He's actually worked with a number of community groups in Philadelphia to create community gardens, so he really knows his stuff.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sonia Sanchez is SUCH A TALENT!  Our original editor, Susan Dobinick, had her in mind, and once we saw her portfolio, we just knew this was the perfect illustrator for this project. Susan did let us weigh in on if we felt Sonia was a good fit -- but I believe that writers don't always have this opportunity.  After Susan went to work elsewhere, editor Grace Kendall took the helm, and we worked closely with Grace when we saw the first pass of illustrations from Sonia, to make sure that needed factual details were in place. But all other details were up to Sonia to interpret. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The diversity of the children in every page. As parents of biracial children ourselves, we couldn't be more thrilled about this!

Q. How long did GREEN GREEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer came in June 2014, and the book came out May 2017.  Yup, three 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. GREEN GREEN was an unusual manuscript for me. It just flowed.  The editor asked us to add a bit more to the city building and the community garden building scenes, so a few more stanzas were written for that, but essentially it's not very different from its first draft.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Keep a notebook on hand at all times!  You never know when those essential truths will flow out. For me, my biggest ideas manifest themselves in the early morning, or on long walks.  If I don't catch them on paper, they sometimes fade like a wisp of smoke.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Support all of your local bookstores. Buy books there. Ask for advice about reads. Steer others to these stores. Buy books there as gifts, or purchase gift certificates. And support your library. Someday they will support you by stocking your books and hosting your events. More importantly, though, a vibrant network of bookstores and libraries means a sure way to grow readers. It's all about being a part of that community and making sure that community thrives.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished a magazine article for Writer's Digest, co-authored with my daughter, Cari Lamba, who is the newest agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (where I am an agent). Also, my next picture book, working title A DAY SO GRAY, has been picked up by Clarion, and I'm excited to see what illustrator is selected for that one. Other than that, I have a number of picture book ideas and a middle grade stewing away. I'm hoping to find some time to work on these over the summer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Website: marielamba.com
Twitter: @marielamba
Facebook: Marie Lamba, Author
Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency: jdlit.com
Goodreads author page, too

Thanks so much for having me here, Karlin!
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