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True Story Blog

This is not a Valentine

Elementary school librarian, book blogger, and Emmy-winning visual effects and motion graphics artist Carter Higgins is here today to talk about her #firstpicturebook. The title popped into her head while riding a bus and, from that spark, she created THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE—“A sort of anti-valentine for those who want to show the ones they love they care without being all mushy (or spending any money). (Kirkus Reviews

Q. Was THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It was not! The first picture book manuscript I ever wrote is long gone and pretty bad. It was unrefined and uninformed, but it was really good practice material.

A. Kids and how honest they are—even when their truthfulness might feel a little rough around the edges. I thought of the title first, and then figured who might be saying that and why.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I didn't pick it as much as it just landed with a thud in my head. I do remember where I was—getting on a shuttle bus to head to my school fair. It's been a good reminder to always keep your brain open. You never know when a mundane moment might make a spark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Oh, this is tough. One of the most rewarding things about making picture books as an author is that you can be a fan of your own book. Once it leaves your hands, an illustrator works their magic, and the whole thing is ushered by sharp, talented editors and art directors—it's a solid team effort.

My favorite part of the book is the picture on the title page—a moment not reflected in the text at all. A little girl slips her friend a Valentine. That's it. On the next page, before the text begins, we see his reaction to such sweetness. The text, then, becomes his response to her actions—bumbling, awkward, friendly love. The text invoked that visual story for Lucy Ruth Cummins, but (I hope!) she didn't feel at all directed by it. It's such a wonderful surprise of making picture books.
I am so lucky that Lucy is the illustrator of this book. She is so very brilliant and I love her work here so much.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second or third person?
A. This is Not a Valentine is written in second person, which wasn't so much a conscious decision as what felt exactly right for this story—I never even tried it in another point of view. It feels both personal and immediate, and also universal. The reader can take on the feelings of humility and hope that our hero has. You become very invested in his success or failure because you are right there with him. And don't all crushes feel oh-so-immersive? It was a perfect choice for this story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE?
A. Not much at all, which was also the joy of writing in second person. It allowed me to figure out who was telling the story, based on who he was talking to.

Q. Did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't, because we only submitted it to my editor at Chronicle Books. She was working on my first book already, and we wanted her to see this one as well.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE.
A. This was the third book I have sold, and the feeling of awe and thankfulness and sheer delight has not changed with each of them. There's nothing like that yes!

Q. How long did THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. We received an offer in the spring of 2015, and its publication date is December 26, 2017. Just in time for Valentine's Day!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. I'd read everything you can get your hands on. The best picture books are created by people who are true fans of the form.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Turn off the internet!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book with Chronicle Books comes out in March of 2018, Everything You Need for a Treehouse, illustrated by Emily Hughes. It is stunning and I can't wait to share it!

I'm also revising a middle grade novel and working on more picture book ideas. A little momentum always helps.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I blog at Design of the Picture Book: http://www.designofthepicturebook.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram @carterhiggins.
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