I find it fascinating when kidlit authors can hop into other genres. My mind is perpetually caught in 2nd grade so I could never envision writing young adult novels. But as my agent reminds me, never say never. Clever, Joan, ever clever.
Veronica Bartles is one of those age-group-jumping frogs. Err, I mean authors. Sorry, I’ve got froggies on the brain because today she’s revealing the cover of her upcoming picture book THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (Balzer + Bray), illustrated by Sara Palacios. And GET THIS–the idea for the book came from her participation in PiBoIdMo. It’s another success story!
Veronica, you write YA novels! And now, a picture book! How difficult was it for you to write for a much younger age group?
Well, I’ve been accused of being very young at heart, so luckily it’s not too difficult for me to slip into a younger voice. But there’s definitely a shift between writing YA novels and picture books. I wouldn’t say one is harder to write than the other, but writing a picture book is definitely not easier than writing a full-length novel, just because it’s shorter. You’d think (at least, I used to think) that it would be a lot harder to write a 50,000-word novel than a 500-word picture book, because the novel has 100 times more words. But with a picture book, every single word counts. When you have only 500-700 words (or less!) to tell a story, with fully-developed characters, plenty of conflict, and a plot that keeps an audience’s attention through multiple re-readings, even the smallest word choice questions make a difference.
Although I can usually jot down a picture book first draft in a few days, while it takes a month or more to finish a YA novel’s first draft, I discovered that the revision process is so much more intense for my picture books. When all is said and done, writing and revising a picture book takes as long as it takes to write and revise a full YA novel. (Maybe even longer.) That was definitely something that took some getting used to.
OK, now I’m really going to test your YA loyalty! How is writing a PB “better” than writing a novel?
I think the best part about writing a picture book is that I can be surprised by the final story too. Writing YA is really fun, and I absolutely make friends with my characters by the time we reach the end of the story together. But since I write all the words, there isn’t anything in the final novel to surprise me. With THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, my words only tell half of the story. The rest is the work of my fabulous illustrator, Sara Palacios. I love the way her pictures and my words fit together to tell a story better than either of us could do on our own.
What was it like when you first saw Sara’s illustrations?
Way back before Sara was officially signed on as my illustrator, my editor sent me some sample artwork with the most adorable frogs you’ve ever seen, and I was immediately smitten. When I got the word that Sara had agreed to illustrate THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, I saved those frog pictures as the background wallpaper on my phone, so I could look at them several times a day. Of course, this made waiting for the official illustrations just a teensy bit harder, because I knew something absolutely fabulous was coming.
So I started following Sara’s Facebook page, watching for any hints of frogs and princesses in her artwork.
One day, she posted a picture of her desk with several sketches for the book she was currently working on, and up in the corner of the picture, there was a pencil sketch of the most adorable little girl I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking, “I want Princess Cassandra to look just like that.” And I’ll admit, I was kind of sad to see this perfect princess in a pile of sketches for someone else’s book. But a couple of days later, my editor, Kristin Rens, emailed me some rough, preliminary sketches of Sara’s concept art for Princess Cassandra … and it was the sketch I had fallen in love with from her Facebook post!!! I sent my daughter outside to do lots of cartwheels for me in celebration. (I’ve never had good enough balance to pull off a proper cartwheel, so I always have to designate a proxy cartwheel performer when celebrations call for one.)
What suggestions do you have for MG or YA authors who want to take on a PB?
Read lots and lots of different kinds of picture books to familiarize yourself with the PB voice. Read them aloud, so you can hear the rhythm of the narrative, even in the books that don’t rhyme. Read them to small children (if you don’t have small children of your own, you can always volunteer to read for story time at your local library), and pay attention to the way they interact with the books. And don’t be afraid to use big words. Kids love creative vocabulary choices!
Also, if possible, make friends with some illustrators. Their critique is invaluable when you’re trying to write a book that’s both fun to read and still leaves enough room for the illustrator to tell her part of the story.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS sounds like an adorable fractured fairy tale, where a princess loves frogs so much, she can’t help kissing them. What was your inspiration for this one?
Well, in November of 2010, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d written my first YA manuscript during NaNoWriMo in 2008, and I’d attempted to write another one (but failed miserably) in 2009, so I felt like I had to “win” again in 2010 to redeem myself. But I was querying that first YA manuscript, knee-deep in revisions on other YA manuscripts, and I didn’t have any great ideas for the next big thing. The thought of subjecting myself to NaNoWriMo made me want to curl up under my desk and sob. So when one of my friends posted a link to something called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book IDEA Month!), I decided I would do that instead. Come up with 30 ideas in 30 days? How hard could it be?
I didn’t actually intend to write picture books, but I wanted an easy way to give myself a writing win, and I told myself that coming up with thirty PB ideas was sure to spark my brain and give me plenty of ideas for YA manuscripts as well. But ideas don’t always come just because you want them to!
Suddenly, it was almost the end of the month, and I still had a nearly-empty PiBoIdMo idea notebook. But I had started collecting query rejections on my YA manuscript, KISSING FROGS, and I desperately needed some kind of validation. I was NOT going to let this challenge beat me, so I started looking everywhere for the slightest glimmer of an idea. And as I thought about my “failed” novel (I had almost TEN whole rejections!!) I started to wonder, “Well, what if the princess didn’t WANT that clichéd Happily Ever After? What if she wasn’t looking for a prince? What if she really just wanted a frog? But what if she loved frogs so much she couldn’t help kissing them goodnight? What if the poor princess had a castle full of princes, all proposing marriage, but really just wanted a pet to love? By the end of the week, my PiBoIdMo idea book was brimming with ideas for fractured fairy tales, including two or three ideas for YA novels.
And I fell in love with a spunky Princess Cassandra, who wanted a frog, not a prince.
So let’s meet Princess Cassandra and her beloved froggies!
You know I’ll be first on line to buy this one. I’m a frog fanatic. (Which I tend not to reveal because everyone starts buying me frog-themed gifts. I’ve got a big box of ugly porcelain frogs, hidden away. Maybe I’ll try smooching them into royalty!)
Thanks, Veronica, for revealing your cover here today. Congratulations!
Princess Cassandra and frogs are coming via Balzer + Bray on November 15, right smack dab in the middle of PiBoIdMo 2016. Be sure to hop back here then to win a copy!