1. First of all, thanks so much for visiting the blog today. Can you tell us where your love for picture books originated?
Deb: My grandmother was a first grade teacher, and she kept us in books when I was young. In one of my past lives, I was an elementary librarian, mostly because I loved finding just the right books for just the right kids. It was an honor to grow readers. Now I get to do the same thing from a different perspective.
2. You mentioned during the SCBWI conference how you received a rejection and stopped writing for 15 years. How did you satisfy your obvious creative nature during that period?
Deb: I taught music during much of that time, writing plays and musicals with my students, dancing, improvising, playing instruments, integrating art activities, and singing. When I became a classroom teacher, the integration and creativity just took other forms. It was also during that time that I completed my master’s project on teaching writing. Thank you for the reminder that those were not fallow years!
3. Picture books are difficult to write since every word must be absolutely necessary. How much time does it typically take you to go from first draft to a polished manuscript?
Deb: Kids ask me that question all the time during my school author visits, and I’m never quite sure how to answer it. If I’m lucky, an idea will come to me and I can crank out a very rough first draft in less than an hour. But then I might work on it for weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, many years. And most of those will never be published. It’s all practice.
4, Where do you get your ideas?
Deb: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. My kids inspire me, and so do my memories. MONSTERS ON MACHINES came from growing up around construction machinery. I got to sit on my dad’s lap and operate a backhoe when I was little—while other kids played in their sandboxes. The dinobooks got started after I sailed from Seattle to Olympia with the Shifty Sailors, a maritime singing group started by my brother-in-law. We took the train on the way home. DINOSOARING, the airplane book, had to come next. It’s dedicated to my nephew who is an engineer at Boeing. TELL ME MY STORY, MAMA was the story of my son’s birth. After you write for a while, you become an idea hunter, and pretty soon you rarely need to look for them.
5. The more the publishing industry contracts it’s becoming more difficult to break into picture books. What do you suggest for aspiring writers?
Deb: Take your time, learn your craft. Everyone always wants to know about publication, but with so much competition, it’s important to really hone your skills. Take risks as you write. Follow the voice that leads you. Don’t think about publication or it can destroy your creativity. Read the kind of books you want to write. Go to conferences. Join SCBWI. Be a sponge and learn all you can, but write!
6. Are agents necessary in the picture book world? Could you elaborate if necessary?
Deb: Agents are nice to have in any genre, but for picture books, it’s often easier to get published than it is to get an agent. It’s easy to understand why. An agent usually makes 15% of your 5% share as an author (10% if you’re an author/illustrator). If you don’t have a track record yet, an agent may not want to take a chance on you. And of course, we all have our own tastes, and if theirs doesn’t match with yours, it’s not going to happen. It doesn’t mean the writing isn’t good. I’ve had two agents, but I don’t have one right now.
7. Could you list a few of your favorite picture books? Why do they resonate with you?
Deb: Besides mine? ; ) I love Bonny Becker’s A VISITOR FOR BEAR because of the voice. I adore DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and FANCY NANCY because they capture kids’ personalities and temperaments. When I read I AIN’T GONNA PAINT NO MORE, the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and borrowed features from music make me wonder why I didn’t think of writing it. There are so many picture books that are just perfect. I have a big basket of books I take with me when I teach writing classes, and we dissect them to see what elements we can borrow to make our own stories. I call those Piggyback Picture Books.
8. If you could be one character from any picture book you’ve ever read, who or what would it be and why?
Deb: One possibility would be Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge in the book by the same name. He didn’t bother with shallow experiences. He replaced judgment with curiosity and looked to the wisest people around him for what he needed to learn. He made a difference by helping a friend access what she already knew. That’s who I want to be, and that’s what I hope to do.