Can you believe it? This is my first Paper People interview of 2019! I am so excited to share my conversation with debut author Patricia Valdez about her adorable and inspiring picture book, JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR. Along with it being my first Paper People of the year, it’s also my first interview with a non-fiction author and I’m fairly certain the first time I talk about reptiles! I hope you’ll read on… I might have inside scoop on a certain Twitter giveaway for those that do! 😉
Patricia, thanks for being here! Before we get started, can I get you something to drink? Thanks so much for having me! I’ll take a black tea, my caffeine source of choice. It’s always time for tea. Maybe that’s why I started and ended JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR with a tea party!
Well if we’re having a tea party then I’ll have some too! I’ve been meaning to drink more, there’s no better time than the present (with pretend tea) am I right? Right off the bat I have to say, there probably aren’t many picture book writers with a resume quite as impressive (and unrelated) as yours. When and where did you first feel the pull to write picture books? Was JOAN PROCTER the first manuscript you wrote? I’ve spent most of my life as a scientist and I currently work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I’m also a mother of a teen and pre-teen, and when my kids were young, I loved reading picture books with them. I quickly figured out elements that clicked for me and my children and those that didn’t. It’s so important to have text that is fun to read because as parents, we read some books over and over. I also noticed that there weren’t many books about science while my kids were fascinated with little stories I wrote about my research – the tiny armies in our bodies that fight off harmful invaders. I also realized there were simply not enough picture books about women scientists, and that’s is how I set myself on the road to JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR.
I think you’re the first nonfiction author that I’ve had on Paper People, and I am THRILLED about it. I know that nonfiction picture books are experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now, what a great time for a nonfiction debut! In the spirit of honesty though, I’ve often struggled to find nonfiction picture books that I can engage in and connect with… but that’s not true of JOAN PROCTER! In a way that reminds me of Jess Keating’s SHARK LADY, I was completely entranced with Dr. Procter from the very first line. As of right now, are your works in progress strictly nonfiction or a mix? Woo hoo! Thanks for giving nonfiction some love! Right now, all of my work is nonfiction, though I’ve dipped my toes into fiction and we’ll see where that leads. I often find that true life is stranger than fiction and I think Joan Procter’s story is just that. I think as authors we try to tell a story in a way that connects with both the child and the reader (often teachers or parents in the case of picture books). Sure, there are some kids that connect with straight expository nonfiction, but I feel that even more readers can connect with narrative nonfiction. Plus, these books often have expository material in the backmatter for those kids that crave it.
The research required to write nonfiction books is an added layer that not all fiction stories require. This means adding to the amount of time you need to hammer out and polish up a manuscript. How do you find time for writing amidst your work at the National Institute of Health and family life? Research is the most exciting part of the process for me. You never know what kinds of juicy tidbits you might find. Even if you don’t end up using all of the research in the main story, those details help give shape to a person’s life and personality (plus, you can always include it in the backmatter). With work and kids, I end up doing my writing at night and on the weekend. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, who is also a scientist.
Needless to say, those long nights and weekends paid off! Do you remember the first time you saw JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on a bookstore shelf? I held my book launch at our local independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. It was such a wonderful experience to see my book out and about. A friend of my daughter visited the Natural History Museum in London this last summer and told me that my book was in the gift shop. That was certainly thrilling since Joan Procter got her start right there! I’ve seen pics of my book for sale in New Zealand, France, and South Korea, so that’s been exciting, too!
Oh, she’s a world traveler! That makes you an international author! Let’s go back to the beginning for you, what were some of the most helpful resources you used when you were first starting out on your KidLit writing journey? I read as many picture book biographies as I could. I also joined SCBWI and read everything I could find about writing query letters once my manuscript was ready. I should also credit my kids for being both sounding boards and critics. 🙂
I mentioned above that you had me captivated by the first line of your story. (I’m even going to use it as a part of my #favoritelinefriday tweets!) First lines are some of the hardest to write, for me, because there is so much riding on them. What’s the most challenging part of writing picture books for you? Thanks so much! First lines are so important. In picture book biographies, I want the first line or two to evoke time, place, and theme. Plus, they have to really draw the reader into the story. I figured lizards at a tea party might do the trick. I also love tying the ending to the beginning (I’m a fan of the circular structure). Of course, you need a strong beginning for this to work. So, I have to agree with you that the first lines are indeed the most challenging.
We’ve all heard that a majority of the marketing of picture books falls to the author once a book is published. Was this your experience? How did you get JOAN PROCTER onto the shelves and into the hands of kids? The publisher gets books to trade publishers and reviewers, so that’s incredibly helpful. Beyond that, us picture book authors have to hustle for marketing. My agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, suggested that as a debut author, I focus on blog appearances (like this!) instead of holding book events. This advice was perfect for me since I have a full-time job and a family. I did a few book events here and there, but not a lot. I also did a few book giveaways on Twitter and with my debut picture book group, Epic 18.
You’ve been a published author for exactly one year today! Congrats on your Book-iversary! Do you have plans to celebrate? I plan to give away a signed copy of JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR on Twitter and have an adult beverage. It’s been quite a year!
Is there anything you learned in the past twelve months that surprised you? For some reason I had this idea that once the book was out there, it would be smooth sailing, but that’s not the case at all. There are many interviews and book events, though as I mentioned, I tried to limit those. I didn’t think about the amount of time I’d spend at the post office mailing off F&Gs and books. All the while, I was working on the second book. No pressure there, right? Ha!
Okay, so you have a busy day ahead of you… what with the Twitter giveaway and all. But I have one more question, before we wrap up, how do you feel about reptiles, honestly? Do you have a favorite or do they make you squirm? We have a pet turtle named Theo at home and I love turtles, but my favorite reptile has to be the Komodo dragon. I would never have found Joan Procter if it wasn’t for my need to know more about these amazing creatures. One sentence near the end of an article about Komodo dragons mentioned that Joan Procter was the first person to describe them in captivity. My curiosity led me to her amazing story which I’m so honored to share!
Scaly, slimy creatures have a special place in my life, too… I happen to live in the Frog Capital of the World! (Just don’t ask me how I really feel about them.) Thanks so much for joining me, Patricia! Where can my readers find and follow you on social media? Do you have anything else coming down the pipe? You can find me most often on Twitter @Patricia_Writer, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaValdezAuthor, and less often on Instagram @pvaldez11. Folks can also find and contact me via my website: www.patriciavaldezbooks.com. My next book hasn’t been announced yet, but I can tell you that it’s a picture book biography about a Latina scientist. I can’t wait to share it!
Oh goodness, I can’t wait! Congrats, again! Okay, now head over to Twitter before its too late to enter her drawing… go ahead, we’re finished here! Just promise me you’ll come back soon, there are always more good things to come!
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!