Without a doubt, my favorite part of blogging is absolutely interviewing! I’m so happy to bring you another (hilarious) Paper People interview with 2017 debut author Jason Gallaher. There’s been a bit of a break in the series, so I’ll give you a quick recap. Paper is the traditional gift for the first anniversary, its also one of the common fundamental elements of all books, in this case, picture books. All of the authors interviewed here are celebrating (or have recently celebrated) the first anniversary of their debut picture book, and have learned much in the process. As a writer, I’ve definitely learned from those prolifically published authors across all genres, but these debut authors are still in the trenches of building their career and have so much wisdom and first hand experience to share. I hope you enjoy my talk with Jason as we talk about his debut picture book, crossing genres, perfect titles and so much more.
Jason, thanks for being here! I start all of my interviews the same way (blame it on my southern roots.) So, before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Do you have any almond milk? I have been completely won over by it. Or a Diet Coke? But definitely not the two of those together.
Absolutely! I’ll take a diet coke too, the fountain kind with really good ice! So, the first time I was introduced to you was last year during NaPiBoWriWee, before WHOBERT was even released. It was a great interview (as they all are.) That leads me to my first question, do you participate in any writing contests/challenges? I do participate in writing challenges! I don’t do them habitually, but I do them when I need a little jumpstart. My first challenge was Tara Lazar’s Story Storm back when it was PiBoIdMo. The year was 2014, I completed the 30 ideas in 30 days, and one of those actually sold the next year (it still hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon! And yes, the next year was 2015 and we are currently in 2018! Publishing can take a long time!).
I participated in Storystorm for the first time this year and am happy to say I finished with a solid list of 30 ideas! I did NaPiBoWriWee again too, but only finished with four drafts instead of seven. Last year, during that interview you talked about how you love titles. I totally get that! What is your creative process when you’re working on a picture book? Do you struggle when your creative process happens out of order? I’m such a sucker for titles, and that’s where my picture book ideas always start. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to me that will fit the title, but I don’t force it. I just let the title sit in my brain, and then it’s when I’m doing something mundane like reciting Anjelica Huston’s filmography that the lightning bolt of an idea strikes and I throw my hands up in the air and scream and the dogs start barking and my husband gets concerned that I’ve hurt myself, but I have no time to worry about any of that because I have to run to my computer to get down the first draft! So, my PB creative process isn’t really a struggle when I write title first, but it’s definitely more dramatic.
The mental images of all that commotion are golden! I’ve giggled every time I’ve read over your answer. Let’s talk about WHOBERT! I am a fan of so many picture books (obviously) but the ones that have all 5 members of the Prevost family clamoring for a turn to read are few and far between. Let me tell you, that’s WHOBERT in our house! His lack of self-awareness is HILARIOUS, I think because it hits a little close to home for everyone. (Except me, of course.) How long was the path to publication for WHOBERT? From first draft to SOLD. Per usual, WHOBERT came to me first as the title. But I didn’t know exactly who, who Whobert was or what he did. But it was when I was writing a grad paper on Shakespeare in the spring of 2014 that it all clicked. It was near the end of the semester and I was getting so much Shakespeare-fatigue that I started reading his plays out loud in a really dramatic voice. Then I got that lightning bolt moment. I knew this was Whobert’s voice, and I knew that I had to poke fun at myself taking myself so dang seriously in grad school. I was really inspired by the “who, who” call of owls, I figured “who” was a great start to any question for a detective, and SHAZAM! WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE was born. I wrote a couple drafts and had them critiqued by two amazing authors: Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum. From there, I had my revision critiqued at the CenCal SCBWI Writers’ Day by Annie Nybo who was then at McElderry Books. She gave me fantastic notes and told me to resend the manuscript to her if her thoughts resonated with me and I revised WHOBERT. Those notes super duper resonated, so I revised, then signed with my agent, then we sent WHOBERT on back to Annie. She asked for one more round of revisions, I got to those, and then after we submitted it to her again, Annie acquired WHOBERT in March of 2015.
That whole process from first draft to sold was pretty quick, just under a year. But I think it’s important to say that the relatively fast sale timeline would not have been possible if it weren’t for a number of happy milestones that happened along the way that I had nothing to do with. First, there was the fact that both Stacy McAnulty and Jill Esbaum were available to look at my manuscript and gave me great advice. Then there was the fact that I met Erin Murphy at a picture book intensive weekend in the fall of 2014, and she introduced me to my agent, Tricia Lawrence. Then it was that Tricia decided she’d give me a call and took a chance on me after a delightful two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then there was the fact that I was paired with Annie Nybo for that SCBWI critique and the fact that Annie happened to get my humor and saw what the WHOBERT draft I submitted to her could become. Not to mention, Jen Rofé of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency let me intern with her a couple years prior and introduced me to the children’s lit world. If not for each of these amazing women, WHOBERT may never have come to be.
So many people helped and so many factors outside of my control lined up perfectly to make publication of WHOBERT happen. We see articles online all the time about people who sell their books so fast, but I don’t think it’s often highlighted that a book’s publication is reliant on so many people and meeting those people at the right place and the right time. If any one of these mentors hadn’t entered my life, WHOBERT could still be in my computer and not on bookshelves. So if you’ve been trying to sell a manuscript for a long time, keep at it! Be an active part of our writing community and you will meet those people and have those happy accidents that lead you to publication. This is even true after your first book comes out. It’s been over two years since I last sold a manuscript, but I’m trying to keep myself at the keyboard every day, and seek as much help and guidance as I can.
What a refreshingly healthy perspective on the different paths a manuscript can take. WHOBERT is such a clever story, I’m so glad all the stars aligned for a quick publication. What books helped to shine a light on your writing path as you were working through WHOBERT’S revisions? Are you a believer in mentor texts? I am such a believer in consuming other authors’ and illustrators’ work and being inspired by them, but when I’m working on a revision I try not to read others’ books when I’m in the revise mindset. I don’t want to get so into their rhythm or voice that I subconsciously repeat it. But I do read a ton of picture books outside of my revisions and there are a number of people who inspire me: Dashka Slater’s ESCARGOT is so flipping hysterical and I want it to be a requirement that kids get a copy of this book when they are born; Jessie Sima is amazing at writing and illustrating whimsical worlds that I want to live in; Jessixa Bagley knows so well how to bring out emotion and make you feel (her book BOATS FOR PAPA makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I. Read. It. And I’ve read it at least thirty times). I could go on and on!
I second every single title you just mentioned! I haven’t read BOATS FOR PAPA yet, but it’s waiting for me at the library today, actually. In nineteen days, on July 18th, you’ll have been a published author for one whole year! Happy Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? My plans are to keep on writing! I love our industry so much, and I want to be a part of it for as long as I can, so I’ll be at my keyboard on July 18th trying to come up with something that hopefully will make people laugh!
Do you remember the first time you saw WHOBERT on a bookstore shelf? Tell us about that moment! The first time I saw WHOBERT on a shelf was at BookPeople, our local (and so flipping fantastic there isn’t a word that can express it) independent bookstore in Austin, TX. They had a whole parliament of WHOBERTs sitting there at their welcome desk, and my heart stopped. It was so surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling and flipping through multiple books even though I knew every book had exactly the same thing in it. I just loved it!
You are so good at capturing a moment and helping your readers (aka me) to be right there with you. When you talk about seeing WHOBERT for the first time, I get all kinds of warm fuzzies! How did you get it on those shelves? Did you have any marketing tricks up your sleeve that you used for the books release? The person who was the absolute best help with marketing was Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She is a GENIUS when it comes to creating materials that can help make your book sing. She made an entire Whobert Story Hour Kit that you can find here!
Now that you have one year under your belt I’m curious: What’s been the most surprising thing about making it to the published side of the industry? The most surprising thing has been how much getting that first book on the shelves just makes you want more! I feel like Cookie Monster screaming, “MORE COOKIES!” only replace “cookies” with “books.” I have this fire in my gut that ignited on July 18, 2017, to have the whole process of publication happen all over again.
See there, you did it again! (#allthefeels) I know enough about you to know that you have a MG fantasy in the works. (That sounded stalkerish! I meant ‘Your website says you have…’) What’s the most difficult part of switching genres for you? What’s drew you to write for the MG audience? Haha! I’m an open book when it comes to…my books. I am completely obsessed with middle grade. I think overall there is an optimism about the world—even in darker MG—and I really like the general MG theme of trying to find your place in a community. I also love fantasy-adventure, and what drew me into writing the genre in MG is that I can develop fantastical worlds with kids who really appreciate the magic going on around them. I can discover these whimsical places through their eyes and really feel their enthusiasm and wonder. The hardest part about going into MG from PBs was getting down all the description. My PBs are really dialogue heavy, so it took me a bit to get into that, “Don’t forget to mention where they are, or what they’re wearing, or what smells so bad” rhythm.
What’s your favorite part of writing MG? What about PB? My favorite part about MG is getting to really dive deep into a world. Fantasy-adventure specifically is so fun for me because I love exploring how magic could enhance, alter or shake up an already confusing time of self-discovery.
My favorite part of PBs is getting to be just plain silly. I love being wacky and flamboyant in my PB writing. I write visually and use a ton of physical humor because, above all, my absolute favorite thing in writing PBs is making people laugh.
You do that so well!!! Do you have anything coming down the pipe? Where can we find and follow you on social media? I have another picture book coming out, but so far, we are still looking for an illustrator. As soon as I can sing this one from the rooftops, I totally will! I can say that it’s unrelated to WHOBERT, and it’s about my favorite subject: love!
You can find me online at jasongallaher.com; on Twitter and Instagram as @draftingjason; and on YouTube where I gab books at youtube.com/c/jasongallaher. Let’s all be friends, everybody! Thank you so much for having me! This was a hoot!
Wasn’t that fun??? See why I love this so much?? The best part is that I have a STACKED schedule of Paper People interviews to post this summer. (There were quite a few wonderful debuts that celebrated their fist anniversary over the spring that I missed, I’m sad to say. You can find a great, comprehensive list of 2017 debut picture books here. If you’re looking for summer reading suggestions its a great place to start!) Stay tuned my friends!
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!