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by Michael Armstrong

When Tara agreed to host the cover reveal for my upcoming picture book, BEST DAY EVER, my initial thought was to have a writer friend do a Q&A type interview. Unfortunately, the few other writers I actually know were unavailable—all for perfectly understandable reasons (one had emergency dog neutering, one was having elective root canal, and one said, “I’ve told you before, we’re not friends, man!” That joke never gets old.)

So instead, I had to settle for my writing nemesis, Carrie Jeschelnig “CJ” Penko. And no, I have no idea what the “CJ” stands for.

MA: Hi CJ. I realize that interviewing me must be quite an honor for you, but let’s try to keep the gushing to a minimum and focus on my fascinating back story.

CJ: Ugh. Let’s just get through this. Do you have my check, old man?

MA: Questions first.

CJ: Fine. (sighs) So, I guess tell me about the cover of your book.

MA: I’m glad you asked. The illustrator is the very talented Eglantine Ceulemans. You might know her work from NO FROGS IN SCHOOL, the Marge collection and the Pug collection.

CJ: Was her cover design what you expected?

MA: Absolutely not. In fact, I was shocked at first. And maybe that’s true with every writer when they first see an illustrator’s interpretation of their story. But the more I looked at it, it became clear to me that it was perfect. Eglantine created a funny, playful cover that not only embodies the tone and content of the story, but added new elements that had never occurred to me. And that’s true of every single spread. I feel very lucky to have her as my collaborator on this book.

CJ: That was actually a good answer. Tell me more about her. She sounds interesting.

MA: I wish I could, but I’ve never actually met her. She lives in France.

CJ: Lucky lady.

MA: Because she lives in France?

CJ: That, too.

MA: Let’s get back to me, please.

CJ: Yeah, yeah. So, this is your first book. Was publishing a picture book the last item on your bucket list?

MA: That’s pretty funny. You should try being funny when you write.

CJ: Well-played.

MA: To answer your question, I first started writing after I became a stay-at-home dad. I spent an enormous amount of time reading picture books to my daughter, and eventually it occurred to me to write one. Seemed easy enough, right? When I tried it, though, I quickly realized that this is a craft that I needed to learn and develop. Five years later a book emerged.=

Also, when you’re home alone all day with a toddler, you need to find something cerebral to do. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my brain from turning to rice cereal.

CJ: Why didn’t it work?

MA: I dunno. Years of abuse and neglect?

CJ: I’m thinking decades. Moving on. How did the idea for BEST DAY EVER originate?

MA: It was from an exercise I picked up at an SCBWI conference. I was having trouble with my word counts being too high, so the idea was to write a story with no words, just illustration notes. Mine was about a kid with a new toy who sees his neighbor having WAY more fun than him with just a stick. Over the course of the next 18 months—with the input of critique partners and friends—it evolved into BEST DAY EVER.

CJ: Is there anything you want your book to accomplish?

MA: After spending several decades in the non-profit world, I came to a conclusion: the best way to change the world is through education. And education begins with reading. So, if we can make books that kids love, it stands to reason that they will seek out more. That’s how it starts. I hope we made a book that kids will love.

Also, I want to be a famous big shot so I can burn bridges with impunity. It has always been a dream of mine.

CJ: Another item on the bucket list?

MA: (stares).

CJ: Well, it’s past three-o-clock. We should probably wrap-up since you need to get ready for dinner. Anything else you’d like to say?  And remember, keep the word count low.

MA: Fine. Then I’ll just say thanks to all the critique partners, SCBWI members, FB pages, Twitter hashtags, and the entire PB writing community. It’s an incredibly supportive and generous group of people who are very giving of their time and talent. And they do it all for free.

(MA gets up and begins to leave.)

CJ:  Free? Oh, no. Where are you going? I want my check. Don’t turn your hearing aids off on me, old man. Mama needs to get paid. I mean it! Come back here!

BEST DAY EVER releases on May 5, 2020 from Sterling.

Editor’s Note: Mike is not quite as pompous, and CJ is not nearly as snarky in real life. They are also quite good friends.


CJ Penko is a writer and a stay-at-home mom. Follow her on Twitter @cjpenko.  Visit cjpenko.com, and look for her best-selling books in the near future.

Michael Armstrong is the author of BEST DAY EVER (Sterling, May 2020). Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, he spent most of his career managing non-profit organizations. He is an active member of SCBWI. Follow him on Twitter @wrongarmstrong.

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My Picture Books

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