Let’s Talk, Otters & Sweet Dreams

Here we are for another dose of Vivian! Today, Vivian and I talk about her next TWO books FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGANING and SWEET DREAMS SARAH, both of which will be released in the next few days! You can read the first part of our conversation, here.

Vivian, welcome back! How about I freshen up your hot chocolate for you? Now let’s jump right back in… Each of these books have very different paths to publication… I read that Pippa’s story made it into the hands of an editor thanks to a talented and dedicated critique partner. How did the OTTERS & SARAH make it there? I wrote Sweet Dreams, Sarah in July of 2014. By the end of 2014, I felt it was ready and I began to submit it to agents. It got a lot of positive responses – four agents were interested and wanted to see more of my work. By the fall of 2015, I had decided to sign with Essie White and in October, she sent it out on a round of submissions and within a month, we had an offer from Creston Books. That was super-fast…rough draft in July and a book deal a year later. But this is a business of waiting and delays…and I think things even out in the end because even though SARAH was the first book deal, she will be the last of my debut triplets to launch in 2019.

Four Otters Toboggan, was written back in 2013. I also submitted it and got amazing feedback…one agent told me it was pure poetry. But no one grabbed it…or me. Some said it was too quiet. Shhhh…the animals are napping, I guess. 😊  When I signed with Essie, and SARAH was out on submission, she asked to see a bunch of my other stories. She loved OTTERS right away, but we were submitting other manuscripts. At the end of 2017, she sent it to Pomegranate, along with a couple of art samples from one of her illustrator clients, Mirka Hokkanen. Essie has an amazing eye and it was a perfect pairing and the editor at Pomegranate agreed and signed it immediately…my lyrical text and Mirka’s amazing talent.

With SARAH, I did not know the illustrator and unfortunately, did not get to see early sketches until the color layouts were done. And although this is how many editors work, I’m not a fan because I feel each book is a team effort. Many errors could be avoided if author and illustrator and editor work together. However, I do understand that some editors are hesitant because they fear the author will be unreasonable and not allow the illustrator to express his or her creativity. I can only speak from my own experience and I vote for collaboration!

four otters coverWhat started each of these the story in motion for you? Where did you find the thread of inspiration? Four Otters Toboggan was another manuscript that got its start during Tara’s challenge. The inspiration came from the fishing trips I took with my husband years ago in Colorado, hiking into the backcountry where wildlife abounds. And I’ve always been a strong supporter of animal conservation and habitat protection. The original title was Visitors to Deep Pool, but the editor felt that sounded a bit like a science fiction story.

The inspiration for Sweet Dreams, Sarah came from a list of female firsts. I’d just taken a class in nonfiction picture book writing and the mentor suggested we look at lists online of the best or the first of this or that. And when Sarah E. Goode’s name popped up and I read what she had done – become one of the first African American women to secure a U.S. patent, in a time when most women didn’t even own anything, I was intrigued and dug deeper. But, no matter how deep I dug, I kept reading the same 2 or 3 paltry lines about her. And that’s when I decided that this courageous trailblazer deserved a book.

Yes, indeed! We talked a little, last time, about your journey with three very different books making their way into the published world. What were the biggest challenges when hammering out and polishing up these manuscripts? Otters required me to put on my lyrical hat, with the help of Thesaurus.com. And again, my critique buddies helped point out where I needed to make changes and they made suggestions that helped the rhythm and pace of the story. It wasn’t a counting book originally. That suggestion actually came from Mira Reisberg, the Children’s Book Academy founder. I’d won a free critique with her many years ago and she suggested I add another layer to the story…perhaps make it a counting book, she said. And I did. 😉

Sweet Dreams Cover One of the biggest challenges with Sweet Dreams, Sarah was the research because there was so little information out there about her. No books. Just a few paragraphs in online websites. And one book with a mini-chapter. I reached out to my reference librarian and she reached out to librarians in Chicago and at Yale. And, although they didn’t have much, I was able to find enough to write an authentic story about this courageous trailblazing woman. I also contacted the cemetery in Chicago where Sarah Goode is buried and got information from the historical records person there.  But once the story was written and sold, there were more challenges because of illustration delays. Which is why I vote for collaboration with author and illustrator. From my experience, with five books now, things go more smoothly when everyone works as a team. Kind of like we wish our government could function. 😊 When people are divided and don’t work together, the project can suffer. But we now have a beautiful book to honor Sarah E. Goode and I am thrilled.

With three picture books published in as many months, I can imagine you have much to be proud of.  Is there something within each story that you’re MOST proud of with these next two, though? Mirka’s woodcut illustrations glow and my words come to life in FOUR OTTERS. I see this as a book that will encourage children to embrace the beauty of nature and appreciate the need for animal conservation and wildlife habitat preservation.

And, Sarah E. Goode forged a new path, but she did not get the recognition or reward she deserved in life. Now there is a book to honor her. And a book that will hopefully inspire children to embrace failure as just one more step towards realizing their goals.

Turtles with Text

My youngest calls himself ‘Nature boy’ and my daughter is the perfect age for soaking up non-fiction. I can’t wait to get both on my shelves.  Just a few more questions before we wrap up…What is your favorite animal fact that you learned during your research for OTTERS?  I learned that the fastest animal is the Peregrine falcon who can dive to catch prey at 242 miles per hour! The STEM-rich back matter has information and fun facts about all of the animals mentioned in the book. And it has a section on conservation and what factors contribute to the destruction of animal habitats. Also, Mirka has created a fabulous activity booklet with puzzles, games, and coloring pages which will be available on our websites soon and she is having print copies made that we can use as giveaways or sell alongside the book.

Sweet Dreams Sarah TextWhat is the most inspirational part of Sweet Sarah’s life that you did not (or could not) include in her story?  Sarah Goode led a very hard life. At age 24, she was a wife, mother, and working woman. In her day, most women, even white women, didn’t own anything. This was 1880 – women couldn’t vote and men called the shots. But the furniture store was in Sarah’s name and so was the patent. That is amazing! The sad part, which I don’t go into in the story, is that two years after Sarah secured the patent, her mother died and also one of her own children. And within another year, according to an advertisement in the newspaper that I found, her cabinet beds were on sale from a different vendor who claimed he had bought out the supply from a bankrupted owner. And all trace of Sarah is lost until she dies in 1905 at the age of 49.

Back in 2015, Kidlit 411 interviewed you and asked a question about inspiration. Your answer is one of my all-time favorites, “The universe is generous, don’t you think?” Is the universe still generous or do you have to work harder now to keep the fresh ideas flowing with all the balls you find yourself juggling (marketing, book promotion, reviews, conferences, etc.) I definitely don’t have a problem with inspiration, my only problem is that I have more fresh ideas than the time I have to write the stories! Someone once mentioned that pre-published authors need to appreciate the freedom that they have. I know this may sound silly, because who doesn’t want a book deal, right? But the thing of it is, once you have that book deal, you are on a deadline for revisions and you need to start thinking about how you will promote your book. These days, publishing houses don’t do very much for most of the picture books that are coming out and it is up to the author and illustrator to blog, use social media, arrange for book events, come up with marketing ideas that will engage book buyers. With picture books, it is difficult because you are not engaging with the young children who might love your book…you are engaging with the parents, teachers, and librarians who will buy your book. And once you get on that merry-go-round, as enjoyable as the ride might be, it gets more and more difficult (especially if you have multiple book deals, which you will, once things get rolling) to find the time to write new stories. And after all, we are writers…and we want to write stories…not sell books.

I loved what Barb Rosenstock said during a Q&A chat on the Missing Voices Picture Book Discussion Group on Facebook when someone asked about bookstore events. “I don’t worry about those, she said. I don’t ever do them. I worry about the writing.” Of course, she does do many wonderful school visits and lots of amazing conference presentations. Because if you have books out there, you need to get them out of boxes and into hands and the only way to do that is to spread the word somehow.

Can you remind us what else you have coming down the pipe? At this point, I have two books that are launching in 2020, with two other publishers. Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring, 2020), illustrated by Alleanna Harris and From Here to There: Inventions that Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020), illustrated by the award-winning Gilbert Ford.

And if you need a reminder… you can find Vivian on/around social media SOMEWHWERE Website, Facebook, TwitterInstagram!

Thanks again, Vivian for sticking around for such a wonderfully long three part chat!

Thank YOU, too for stopping by and reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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