I got a chance to catch up with superstar Terry Pierce about her new release My Busy Green Garden! Terry has several published books out, two coming soon and (fingers crossed) another manuscript going through the acceptance process right now. Her contact links are below the interview – definitely check out her work!
MBGG (My Busy Green Garden) is full of wonder! The intricacies of all the critters going about their routines plus the engaging rhythms of the story make it a joy to read at bed time. When creating it, do you ever read the work-in-progress text aloud to children?
First, thank you for the interview, Julie! It’s always a pleasure to talk about children’s books and writing. And what a great first question to answer. While I’m writing a picture book I always read the story aloud (as I write it) because picture books are meant to be read aloud. It’s an important part of the picture book writing process to read my work aloud so I can hear how the text rolls off my tongue, especially when I’m writing in rhyme! In fact, I often walk while reading my story aloud to check the rhythm. If there’s a stumble or glitch in the rhythm, I’ll feel it in my feet.
But you specifically asked if I read my work-in-progress to children. When I first started writing I did, but I soon realized that with picture books, reading my manuscripts to children didn’t quite work because I had no illustrations to accompany the text! (I’m an author, not an author-illustrator). As you know, picture books are a collaboration of text and art, with the art typically telling half the story. It took me a while to figure out that whenever I would read a manuscript to children I was only giving them half the story. So now, I rely on my own experiences and judgement regarding how my work will appeal to kids (I’m a former Montessori teacher so that helps).
The text has such a sense of rhythm, like a dance or a fun hike on a spring day. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the idea first started to take hold of you?
Initially, I wanted to write a cumulative story (meaning, a story with building text, like the old favorite, The House That Jack Built). I already had one cumulative picture book published (Blackberry Banquet, Arbordale Publishing) and I had so much fun writing it! You see, my most favorite part of writing is playing with words and puzzling through the challenges of writing with rhyme and rhythm. I started reading many cumulative picture books to reacquaint myself with what was already on the market (so important to do when you get a new story idea!). When I read Arnold Lobel’s, The Rose in My Garden, I decided to go with a garden setting but I wanted a different focus—specifically, insects! (because what kid isn’t curious about bugs?).
I remember sitting in my favorite worn writing chair (very likely with my cat on my lap), closing Lobel’s wonderful story, recalling how much my students loved hearing it, and decided I would write a story with a focus on insects and other small animals coming into a garden. But being a former teacher, I wanted to include some “science” so I decided to make the focal point achrysalis, hanging quietly in the garden, amidst all the other busy activity.
The illustrations are just gorgeous- bright, fun, so fresh and garden-y! How much influence did you have in choosing and guiding the art?
I’m so glad you asked. One of the biggest misconceptions about writing picture books is that the author chooses his/her illustrator and submits their story to a publisher with the art. That is NOT the case. Typically, the author doesn’t have a say in who illustrates the book (especially in the trade market). However, I was fortunate in that my publisher, Tilbury House, sent me a list of five illustrators’ websites and asked me for my thoughts. They wanted to know if any of the illustrators’ styles matched the vision I had for the story.
Of course, I was thrilled they did this, because as I said, it’s not typical. And as soon as I saw Carol Schwartz’s rich, detailed, colorful illustrations, I knew she was my only choice (and luckily, she was my editor’s first choice, as well). Seriously, visit her website for a visual treat—her work is stunning! (www.csillustration.com).
Once they signed Carol on, I had little input on the illustrations, but honestly, I’m not an illustrator so I trusted the process, believing my editor and Carol would create something amazing. And they did! My editor did ask for thoughts on the cover font’s style and color, but I trusted the professionals to make the final decisions. As you say, the artwork is gorgeous, bright, fun, fresh and garden-y!
I read in a previous interview that you had submitted it several times prior to landing a deal with Tilbury House, and that it came down to tweaking just one line to give it more intrigue. Do you find in your process that this is a reality? That it just isn’t done until it is accepted and tweaks along the way are part of the process?
Absolutely! A manuscript isn’t “done” until the publisher has accepted the revised work (which in my experience, comes after I’ve signed a contract and my editor gives me a revision deadline). But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Usually, after putting a lot of work (weeks, months, even years) into a polished draft (which includes getting feedback from other writers), I’ll submit the manuscript to my agent (or an editor, if I’m submitting it myself to the educational market). If I receive a handful of “declines” (a nice way of saying “rejections”), then I will step back and take another hard look at the work.
Sometimes, editors will give feedback, which I try to assimilate. For example, one editor told me she really liked My Busy Green Garden, but felt it was missing something, “a spark.” That single comment was what got me thinking that MBGG was close but needed one final “oomph!” So, after considering any editorial feedback, I’ll do some more tweaking and tinkering before sending a manuscript out for another round of submissions. This could go on for months or even years (sometimes I put a story away for a few months to gain a fresh perspective). And the reality is that some stories never make it to book publication (I call those my “learning stories” because they help me practice my writing). And others might make it other places of publications, like magazines.
But the ones that are accepted for publication almost always require more revision after acquisition because editors have a vision for the manuscript, as well. They want the manuscript to reflect their publishing house. Sometimes it’s a rewrite, other times it’s minor edits, but either way, there is always more tweaking before the publisher accepts the final draft.
I know you have several upcoming books making their ways to shelves soon, can you give us some hints as to what to expect from you next?
Thank you for asking! I have three more books “under contract” (Pinch me! One picture book and two easy readers) but I can only publicly speak about one at this time (with my trade market publisher, I have to wait until the publisher announces the deal—hopefully, my editor will be announcing one of them in the next couple of months!).
The book I can share is another picture book with Tilbury House titled, Mother Earth’s Lullaby.The amazing Carol Heyer is going to illustrate it (this will be my second incredible illustrator named Carol!). The book is a rhyming lullaby story about endangered animals. It’s another one that I worked on for years, but it wasn’t until I shared it with my picture book adviser at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Kathi Appelt, that she suggested the endangered animal theme. I put a great amount of time and attention into creating a soothing, gentle text and I know Carol’s art is going to take my words to another level (visit her website at www.carolheyer.com). I believe the book is slated to come out in late 2018, and my soon-to-be-announced easy readers will be released in spring 2018 and summer 2019.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors and illustrators?
This is an important question so my apologies in advance for droning on a bit. First, I always recommend to new writers to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators(www.scbwi.org) and become active in your local events. Doing so will help you make connections and educate you to world of children’s writing and illustrating, and help you learn how children’s publishing works.
Second, I’d warn people that the road to publication is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of learning, practice and grit to get published (mind you, I’m speaking of traditional publishing, not self-publishing of which I’m not familiar). That said, I’d also say Never Give Up. If you work hard, remain open-minded, develop your writing and/or illustration skills, and persevere, you’ll find success. But saying to persevere is sometimes easier to say than do.
Last year, on the EMU’s Debuts blog, (https://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-pit-of-despair/) I wrote about what I call The Pit of Despair—that dark, hopeless place where all writers sometimes find themselves when they feel they can’t go on, cannot take one more rejection and think it’s time to give up their dream. I think it’s important to know that, 1) we all have serious setbacks, and 2) we’re not alone when we experience them. Connecting with other writers is vital to one’s survival in this business. We really do need each other (another great reason to join the SCBWI!).
And one last bit of advice. Don’t be afraid to take a writing course to hone your skills. I love retreats, workshops and conferences, but when you take a writing course, you dive deeply into the craft. Doing so helps you develop a stronger understanding of the genre and usually provides an opportunity for professional feedback on your work. It’s so important to learn the craft before you learn to market (trust me, doing so will save you many rejections!). While I’m partial to the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program because I teach for them, there are many other writing courses available today, both online and on-site. Just Google it!
Check out Terry’s books here:
Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/terrycpierce
TERRY PIERCE is the author of twenty children’s books, her most recent works being MAMA LOVES YOU SO (Little Simon) and MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN (Tilbury House). Her other books include BLACKBERRY BANQUET, TAE KWON DO! (Random House Step-Into-Reading, 2007 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books), and MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES (Picture Window Book, AEP Distinguished Achievement Award), and books for young readers about Hawaii. A former Montessori teacher, she now writes full-time, teaches children’s writing workshops and is a visiting author to elementary schools. She also teaches children’s writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books, including “Sleep Sweet” the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book. She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and freelance contributor to Story Monsters Ink Magazine. She can be reached at www.julianneblack.com