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True Story Blog


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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