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True Story Blog


Former attorney and legal editor, Robin Newman prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She’s the author of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and has two books coming out in 2017—The Case of the Poached Egg, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books) and No Peacocks! Illustrated by Chris Ewald (Sky Pony Press). But today she shares her recipe for brewing up her first picture book, HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP—"A witch's search for a good night's sleep results in numerous run-ins with nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters in this entertaining story from Newman (The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake) and newcomer Ewald. Publishers Weekly

Q. Was HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Far from it! The first picture book that I wrote was about two sophisticated and somewhat snooty city cats who unfortunately get a country dog as a houseguest. Quite honestly, it wasn’t very good and not much came of the story.

A. Hildie BItterpickles Needs Her Sleep was inspired by a neighbor’s witch weathervane.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I played around with the title a lot. Some previous titles were: “There’s No Place Like Home,” “The Witches and The Real Estate Agent,” and “Shhh! Don’t Wake the Witch!” Originally, the story was about three witches, Hildie, Marge and Blanche. But the story was dialogue heavy with three witches. Once I narrowed the story down to one witch, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep just seemed like a good fit.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Hands down it’s the classified ads in The Daily Witch. The classified ads were not part of that first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. Food seems to seep into a number of my writings and I was playing around with the idea of what would you call a cranky, bitter witch in a pickle. Hence, the creation of Bitterpickles. For Hildie’s cat, I came up with Clawdia. What else would a witch’s cat be called? And Monty seemed to suit the personality of a slick real estate agent who happened to be a rat.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. I like that you can confide facts to the reader with a third person narrator. The story also never felt like it should be written in the first person.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP? 
A. I knew I wanted to write a book about a witch with some real estate/neighbor-relation problems. But exactly what that was took some time to flush out.

Q. Did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I think I received one or two rejections. And I remember one of the rejections arrived long after I had already signed the contract with Creston Books. It was for a very early draft of the story.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP.
A. Words can’t describe it! I think I may have cried. It was definitely up there with passing the bar exam and finishing my first marathon.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor and publisher had asked me my thoughts about Chris Ewald. I loved his work. He is AMAZINGLY talented.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Wow! The illustrations were incredible. They were so much better than anything I could have ever imagined. I had never pictured Hildie as a child. I imagined her as a green cranky old witch. I’m so glad Chris had a very different vision of Hildie. And I love that Chris’ sense of humor also comes out in all of the illustrations. He has an incredible eye for detail.

Q. How long did HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took about two years (I think). It was originally scheduled to come out before THE CASE OF THE MISSING CARROT CAKE but the schedules got flipped.

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. I love the book. I was tweaking and re-tweaking the text to the very end. I’m thrilled with the final result.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP?
A. One of the very best things about being a children’s book author is getting mail from kids. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE their letters. I save each and every one. Last year I Skyped with a school in Indiana for World Read Aloud Day and after reading Hildie and doing a q&a, my dog, Madeleine, made an appearance. She was extremely popular with the kids, as you can see by the letters below:
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for skyping with us. I loved your book and your dog."
"Dear Ms. Newman, Thank you for being nice and wearing your witch hat. The book you read was awesome. Your witch hat was awesome too and your dog was cute."

Q. When you do readings of HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The kids really enjoy spotting all of the fairy tale characters that are included in the illustrations. (As I told you, Chris Ewald is amazing!)

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read. Write. Rinse and repeat.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I spend a lot of time on character development. I do character studies for all my characters (even if they’re just quick notes) and try to come up with a minimum of four or five traits.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m currently working on a bunch of picture books and rewrites. Stay tuned for details.

Karlin, Many thanks for taking the time to interview me. Wonderful questions. All the very best and much continued success with your writing.

Learn more about Robin Newman and her books:
Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com 
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049
Link to the book trailer: https://youtu.be/WDvzxiV0OwE
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