Good morning, writers! (Yawn! Stretch! Crack fingers. Sip tea.)
Let me tell you the reason for my uber-early morn, besides rousting my middle-schooler from her zombie-slumber. Not only do I have a SCBWI event at a “hipster cafe” (according to said middle-schooler), but I’m here to announce another debut by a friend! I’m pleased to share with you an adorable Noah’s ark tale, GOODNIGHT, ARK by Laura Sassi. Once again, a picture book writer makes a breakthrough with a new twist on a familiar theme.
Laura, a lot of time on this blog is spent talking about inspiration and story ideas (because of PiBoIdMo). What’s the genesis of GOODNIGHT, ARK?
First off, I just love your play on words here. The Biblical story of Noah’s ark is indeed found in Genesis! And I’ve always loved the story of Noah and the flood and all those animals packed in the ark two by two. Indeed one of the earliest stories I ever wrote – just for fun as a seven or eight year old – was a funny retelling of Noah and his ark. It has illustrations and everything—including horrendous spelling. My mom saved it. Wasn’t that sweet of her? This new Noah’s ark story, however, has a different genesis—experience! As a fellow Jersey girl, you know we’ve had some mighty fierce storms in the past few years and my kids and dog did not like them. Indeed howling winds and pelting rain sent them tumbling into our bed more than once. However, I thought that a story about ordinary kids piling into an ordinary bed might be boring, so I kept flipping the idea until—Zip! Zing!—it hit me—I could set the tale afloat on Noah’s ark! I knew I wanted my story to rhyme, and so once I had my setting, it was fun to brainstorm which animals might pile in and what might happen when they overloaded poor Noah’s bed.
Such an adorable idea! My kids are always crowding into my bed, and I remember doing it myself as a kid.
Did you have any hesitations about writing in rhyme? You know, because we hear so often not to do it because it’s difficult to do well.
Actually, I did not. Some stories are just meant to rhyme. For GOODNIGHT, ARK, I used the rhymes to create page turn riddles to encourage young readers to guess what will happen when page turns. But writer beware! You better make sure you have a good ear for it because creating good rhyming verse is complicated. You not only need to follow your established meter, you also you need to make sure your rhyme and meter are not driving the story. There is nothing worse than forced rhymes where words are inverted to make the rhyme or meter work, or where the plot has to go in awkward directions in order to rhyme. Stay away from that kind of rhyme!
You’re so right, some stories are meant to rhyme. And it’s good to follow your instincts for a story. I often say that the “gut” is a writer’s best friend. This business is so subjective. You can’t please all the readers all the time, so be true to your vision.
How did you land this debut contract?
The first key to opening that contract door was to find an agent who believed in my writing. The second key was not settling for what I thought at the time was my best effort, but pushing myself to take the manuscript to the next level before subbing it to publishers. The third key was sending GOODNIGHT, ARK to small, but well-thought-through sub list. For several months my agent and I heard nothing, then all of a sudden there was a flurry of interest. The manuscript ended up going to three acquisition meetings and getting two offers! In the end I chose Zonderkidz because I loved their vision for the story which they saw as a perfect piece to bridge both the Christian and broader secular markets. And then I was completely over the moon when, soon after signing the contract, the editor emailed me to say that Jane Chapman had agreed to illustrate it!
WOWZA! You hit kidlit gold there! Every author dreams of getting a top-notch illustrator attached to their project. Did you go thru the roof of the Ark when Jane Chapman said “yes”?
I first encountered Jane Chapman’s work when reading Karma Wilson’ BEAR SNORES ON to my children when they were little. And I LOVED the way she rendered Karma’s little creatures and that big bear with such warmth and sweetness. I couldn’t wait to see how she would depict the frightened tigers, skunks on board the ark in my story. I had no doubt she would do a wonderful job and I was right! Her lovely lantern-lit illustrations are rich and engaging. And here’s a funny tidbit: Shortly after I found out that Jane had signed on to illustrate GOODNIGHT, ARK, I read an interview with Jane Chapman over at Joanne Marple’s blog. At one point Joanna asked Jane if she had any favorite animals that she loved to draw. Jane answered something along the lines that she’s often commissioned to draw bears and mice, but that she’d really love the opportunity to draw some other more unusual animals such as ostriches…or WILD BOAR! (Well, there are wild boar in GOODNIGHT, ARK, so when I saw that I smiled because I knew, or at least hoped, that Jane was just as excited about this project as I was.) GRUNT! SQUEE! (That’s me trying to sound like an excited boar!)
What a cool surprise!
Speaking of such, what’s one of the surprise bonuses of the recent publication of your book?
This is an easy and wonderful answer for me. Special mother/daughter bonding time! I had no idea my nine-year-old would be so excited about the publication of GOODNIGHT, ARK. From theme-based cookies to celebrate the launch, to being my sidekick at book signings, I’ve loved the extra time she and I have spent together doing GOODNIGHT, ARK things. For example, this past Saturday, she accompanied me to a book signing at a lovely independent book store just north of us. She helped the children settle down, then took pictures while I read the story. Afterwards, she helped hand out the craft, and then (and this is my favorite part) completely of her own accord, she gently walked around to each child with the skunk puppet I’d brought along to help me read the story, and asked each child if they’d like a chance to pet the skunk. The children LOVED that! And so did I! In a couple of weeks my fourteeen-year-old will be accompanying me on a road trip down to Lexington, VA to do double book signings. I hope that will also be a special mother/son bonding trip. (With skunk in tow, of course.)
Awesome. I love how your kids are involved. My middle-schooler says “yeah, yeah, Mom” when I get excited about a manuscript. Then she asks for a grilled cheese, stares at it while I read, and then exclaims, “Mommy, that story is too cheesy, just like this sandwich.” Why do I bother to wake her?
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Laura! And I understand your publisher will be sharing the book with us!
Comment below once for a chance to enter the GOODNIGHT, ARK giveaway. You must have a US address (and not a PO Box). You have until September 28th to enter!
Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in rhyme. She writes daily from her century-old home in New Jersey where she lives with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie. Her poems, stories, articles, and crafts have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. and elsewhere. GOODNIGHT, ARK is her first picture book. Visit her at LauraSassiTales.wordpress.com.