DAY 6 OF THE ZOE VOTE – YOUR PICTURE BOOK QUESTIONS

Congratulations to everyone whose books made the YALSA Teen Top Ten list for 2009!

Thanks to everyone to came out to see me at SUNY Oswego yesterday! And thanks to those who sent in questions about picture book writing. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Do you get to know your picture book characters as well as those in your novels?

I know them on a completely different level, like the way you knew your best friend in second grade.

I would love to know more about how long it takes, from idea to published!

ZOE is my seventh picture book. So far the average time from initial idea to book-on-the-shelf has been four years. ZOE took longer because the story was "resting" in my drawer for several years.

[Today] you said that the illustrator is more important than the author but that the author has no control over the illustrator. That seems stressful. Does that just apply to the beginning of the process? Is there a point at which the author does have some control over the illustrator? How does the illustration process work?

The fact that authors have basically no control over their illustrations freaked me all the way out at first. But I got over it. The truth is that artists bring their own vision to the story and (in my case, at least) it’s a much more creative and energetic vision that the author has. In my non-fiction picture books, THANK YOU, SARAH and INDEPENDENT DAMES, I had a little input and was able to share my research with my illustrator, Matt Faulkner. With ZOE, I was sent the early sketches (this is very common) by my editor and was able to have a discussion with the editor about them. There was one tiny reality glitch, I believe, in the spread where the hair isout in the hall while the family has a meeting with the principal. I was able to point that out.

My illustrator, Ard Hoyt, is going to share his side of the ZOE story in this blog tomorrow.

UPDATE ON QUEST TO GET ZOE INTO A BOX OF CHEERIOS:

I’m told that Zoe is holding in at fourth place in the Spoonful of Stories contest. One the intrepid Friends of the Forest dug around and discovered that the author and illustrator of Jump! (the mysterious unpublished book currently in first place) has been making funny YouTube videos to get folks to vote for his book. This is brilliant!

I, sadly, don’t have time for videos, so I will resort to old-fashioned groveling and begging.

PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE TODAY AND EVERY DAY UNTIL THE END OF OCTOBER. AND PLEASE GET FIVE FRIENDS TO DO THE SAME THING. ::grovels in a humble and appeasing manner::

For those of you who are new to our game, here are your voting instructions:

HOW TO VOTE:

1. Go to the voting page.

2. In the bottom right corner, click on MORE BOOKS twice. (Yes, this is the tricky part. No, I don’t know why Zoe is buried at the absolute back of the pack. Kind of makes you feel sorry for her, huh?) That will take you to ZOE.

3. Click on the yellow box that says VOTE!

4. Notify all of your friends, neighbors, family members, the folks at church or temple or mosque or other house of faith, the rest of the PTA, the people at the firehouse, everyone in your classroom, and tell them all pretty, pretty please with a headful of unruly red hair, PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE.

5. Do this every day until the end of October.

 

TOMORROW: ARD HOYT TALKS ABOUT ILLUSTRATING ZOE.

DAY 5 OF THE ZOE VOTE – PICTURE BOOK BASICS

Go ahead and yell at me. I took yesterday off.

We sprinkled my father-in-law’s ashes up at our camp on Saturday, near where we put my Mom last month. We had a great family get-together at our house afterward, tears and laughter, bitter and sweet in just the right proportions. And I woke up Sunday with a burning need to spend the entire day in my garden and not touch any computers. Thanks for being understanding.

So…. picture book writing!!!

What follows is my approach to writing picture books.  (Yep, it’s all my copyright, but may be reproduced for classroom use.) There are many different variations on this, of course, but I thought guidelines might be useful for some of you.

When I am thinking of a picture book idea, I am always aware of the structural limitations the form imposes:

1. A picture book has 32 pages.

2. This means a picture book has (usually) 16 2-page spreads.

3. Good picture books usually have fewer than 750 words. Fewer than 500 is better.

4. A picture book needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

5. A picture book has character, conflict, and character growth that is a result of the conflict (Usually!  "Quiet" picture books, sometimes called "mood pieces" (think GOOD-NIGHT MOON) are noticeably short on conflict and character growth. They are also wicked hard to get published.)

6. Picture book writing tends to be short on narrative description. Descriptive details are taken care of in the art.

7. (Warning – biased statement ahead) Picture book stories build the stage upon which great art can be committed. The illustrator is more important than the author.

8. The unfolding of the story must provide the artist with varied settings and perspectives for illustration purposes. No talking heads.

9. Authors have no control over the illustrations of picture books, unless they choose to illustrate them on their own. Don’t waste any energy fussing abut this. Focus on your story.

10. Picture book writing is the essence of story structure boiled down to the barest of bones. It’s way harder than it looks, and incredibly satisfying.

I was just asked on Twitter if I prefer the novel form or the picture book form. The answer is "Yes." I really like having different forms to work on. I can take as many years tinkering with a picture book as a novel. It may only have a couple hundred words, but they have to be the exact right words in the exact right order! But the subject matter of my picture books tends to be a whole lot lighter than my novels and that is a nice break for my soul.

Your turn – What questions do you have about picture book writing or the writing of THE HAIR OF ZOE FLEEFENBACHER GOES TO SCHOOL?

Update on the Zoe vote. Yes, there is a wee bit of controversy. Isn’t there always with voting? The lead book, JUMP!, will not be published until next Spring. Yet it currently has 47% of the vote. ZOE is in fourth place, with 10% of the vote. The rules say that you are only allowed to vote once a day and I am a rule-following kind of kid.

David Lubar points out, "You might want to add that each person can vote once per day from each computer he or she has access to, since the "once per day" limit is linked to the specific computer casting the vote. So, if your public library has 20 computers… (Not that I’m advocating voter fraud, but I was born in NJ, so it’s in my blood.)

A couple of people have written and suggested I promote a break-all-the-rules-vote-a-million-times-a-day campaign. Nope, sorry, ain’t going to go there. We are talking about getting picture books into boxes of Cheerios, for crying out loud. I would feel forever stained if my picture book was sullied by cereal box fraud.

Please vote once a day. EVERY day until the end of October. And please get five friends to do the same thing.

For those of you who are new to our game, here are your voting instructions:

HOW TO VOTE:

1. Go to the voting page.

2. In the bottom right corner, click on MORE BOOKS twice. (Yes, this is the tricky part. No, I don’t know why Zoe is buried at the absolute back of the pack. Kind of makes you feel sorry for her, huh?) That will take you to ZOE.

3. Click on the yellow box that says VOTE!

4. Notify all of your friends, neighbors, family members, the folks at church or temple or mosque or other house of faith, the rest of the PTA, the people at the firehouse, everyone in your classroom, and tell them all pretty, pretty please with a headful of unruly red hair, PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE.

5. Do this every day until the end of October.

 

TOMORROW: I ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT PICTURE BOOKS AND ZOE. THIS MEANS I NEED YOU TO ASK QUESTIONS! SEND THEM TO QUEENLOUISE AT WRITERLADY DOT COM.

DAY 3 OF THE ZOE VOTE – WHAT HAPPENED TO PLUTO?

Yesterday’s post covered the background and writing process of THE HAIR OF ZOE FLEEFENBACHER GOES TO SCHOOL. It took, um…. years to write the book and have it published. (I point this out to anyone who is just joining the field of children’s literature and thinks they have a great picture book idea that will make them eight million dollars in time for Christmas.)

In the critical scene of ZOE, the teacher is trying to demonstrate how the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun. In the early drafts of the book, there were nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Then – while Ard Hoyt was working on his preliminary sketches – Pluto was demoted.

Time for another revision!

I thought about making a scientific political statement, like asking Ard to draw in a poster in Ms. Trisk’s classroom that said something like "Bring back Pluto!", but wiser heads prevailed.

ZOE STILL NEEDS YOUR HELP AND YOUR DAILY VOTE!!

I’m not quite sure how JUMP! is in the lead in this contest because it is not supposed to be published until March 2010. Maybe Scott M. Fischer knows more people than I do. Maybe he has a secret league of great-aunties who have enlisted all of the women from their bridge clubs and canasta leagues and hair parlors do vote for his book.

Zoe only has you.

YOU can put ZOE in a cheerios cereal box. Here’s how:

HOW TO VOTE:

1. Go to the voting page.

2. In the bottom right corner, click on MORE BOOKS twice. (Yes, this is the tricky part. No, I don’t know why Zoe is buried at the absolute back of the pack. Kind of makes you feel sorry for her, huh?) That will take you to ZOE.

3. Click on the yellow box that says VOTE!

4. Notify all of your friends, neighbors, family members, the folks at church or temple or mosque or other house of faith, the rest of the PTA, the people at the firehouse, everyone in your classroom, and tell them all pretty, pretty please with a headful of unruly red hair, PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE.

5. Do this every day until the end of October.

 

TOMORROW: A LESSON IN PICTURE BOOK WRITING

 

DAY 2 OF THE ZOE VOTE – HOW THE BOOK BEGAN

Thank you! Thank you! Because you and your friends, cats, dogs, and cubicle mates voted for Zoe yesterday, she appears to be sitting in third place in the contest to win a spot in a million boxes of Cheerios. The contest goes to the end of the month, so I’m going to blog about the writing process of the book every day.

Where did the idea for Zoe come from?

My family room.

I have one daughter, Stephanie, who was born with lovely red hair. I have another daughter, Meredith, who has a rather energetic personality.

Out of a strange melding of these two girls came the idea for ZOE: a child born with a quarter acre of crazy red hair that had a personality of its own.

In the early drafts, the story wasn’t quite a story. It turned out that just having cool hair was not enough. This explained the rejections I received for the book in the mid 1990’s. (The story was VERY DIFFERENT from its current form!) When a rejection would come in, I’d pout, and keep tinkering with it.

Both of my girls went off to kindergarten and then first grade. Meredith’s exuberant personality was not appreciated by all of her teachers. When Meredith was identified as ADHD, we were confused. It didn’t feel right to force our child into something she was not made to be. But clearly she had to learn to adapt to a classroom setting. What to do?

With this personal drama unfolding in the background, I continued to edit and rewrite Zoe’s story. I added the somewhat intimidating character of Ms. Trisk and clarified the conflict: Zoe has to learn to follow the rules of first grade. But that makes her sad.

My daughter Meredith, meanwhile, was growing up. She was blessed with a couple OF teachers who really valued her qualities and personality. Meredith learned how to adapt to a school setting. The school learned to adapt to her. And I finally figured out how to write Zoe.

An editor I sent it to loved it, but said that too many "hair books" had just come out, and he wanted to hold on to it for a bit. About five years later, he called me up and said the time had come. The world was waiting for Zoe.

And my daughter?

She was so inspired by the teachers who respected who she was and helped her figure out her own leaning style, that she became an education major in college. She graduated in May and is now an 8th grade science teacher working near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.

THE HAIR OF ZOE FLEEFENBACHER GOES TO SCHOOL is dedicated to my daughter Meredith.


HOW TO VOTE:

1. Go to the voting page.

2. In the bottom right corner, click on MORE BOOKS twice. That will take you to ZOE.

3. Click on the yellow box that says VOTE!

4. Notify all of your friends, neighbors, family members, the folks at church or temple or mosque or other house of faith, the rest of the PTA, the people at the firehouse, everyone in your classroom, and tell them all pretty, pretty please with a headful of unruly red hair, PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE.

5. Do this every day until the end of October.

TOMORROW: ZOE HAS A PROBLEM WITH PLUTO

VOTE FOR ZOE!!!

And now for something completely different…. (with apologies to Monty Python)

For the next two weeks, we here in the Forest are going to take a temporary break from the weighty topics of the day like censorship and the American Revolution. (Fear not, I promise to return to them with renewed vigor after the end of the month!)

For the next two weeks, we are going to talk about, write about, dream about and VOTE FOR ZOE!!!

THE HAIR OF ZOE FLEEFENBACHER GOES TO SCHOOL – which will just be shortened to ZOE for the next two weeks – is a silly, wonderful story about a first grade girl who has hair that can do incredible things… including getting her in trouble. It’s a book about the need to honor children for who they are, instead of forcing them to fit into prefabricated boxes. It’s also a story about learning how to compromise and why rules are important.

AND… it has illustrations by the amazing Ard Hoyt!

Zoe might wind up inside a box of Cheerios. Actually, if she gets enough votes, ZOE will wind up inside about one million cereal boxes!!! How cool is that? A kid sits down to breakfast and winds up with a book!!!

BUT ZOE NEEDS YOUR HELP!!

There are 13 books competing for the 5 finalist positions. All of the five finalists will wind up in the cereal boxes. You vote once a day for the next two weeks for your favorite five, which I sure as heck hopes includes our girl, ZOE.

HOW TO VOTE:

1. Go to the voting page.

2. In the bottom right corner, click on MORE BOOKS twice. That will take you to ZOE.

3. Click on the yellow box that says VOTE!

4. Notify all of your friends, neighbors, family members, the folks at church or temple or mosque or other house of faith, the rest of the PTA, the people at the firehouse, everyone in your classroom, and tell them all pretty, pretty please with a headful of unruly red hair, PLEASE VOTE FOR ZOE.

5. Do this every day until the end of October.

I will be blogging all about the writing and publication process of ZOE for the next two weeks. And Ard Hoyt has sent me a note that I’ll post explaining what the process was like for him. So the next two weeks at this blog will be one part tutorial in picture book creation, three parts silliness, and seven parts encouraging people to please, please, please vote for Zoe.

I also need help coming up with a fun, outrageous thing to do if ZOE wins. Any suggestions?

TOMORROW: The Idea For Zoe