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Thank you, Tara, for hosting the very first peek (one year before publication) at the cover for book one of my upcoming chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), which I write and illustrate.
Though BEEP AND BOB is my debut series, it is far from the first kidlit book I was supposed to publish. That honor goes to a picture book I wrote years ago. I assembled an illustrated dummy, submitted to the finest publishers (in an envelope with stamps!) and waited for greatness. Of course, for that and a second book, only rejection followed.
Luckily, around that time I found the organization SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). While networking at SCBWI conferences, I found a great community of dedicated and generous creators, always there with support. I also found an agent, who picked up my first middle-grade novel. She began to submit and got some genuine interest from well-known editors. Once again, I waited for greatness. But once again, even after a couple more MG novels and some almost-sales, came our friend rejection.
Of course, this story is heading for that age-old chestnut that the key to any success is PERSEVERANCE. Try and try again, and then try some more. It’s all about dedication and endurance. However, I also discovered one new gem that, for me at least, became a crucial part of the puzzle: GIVING UP.
Obviously I didn’t give up writing or I wouldn’t be here, but at some point after being endlessly battered by the waves, I gave up in the sense of letting go—letting go of being attached to the goal of publication. I stopped struggling so much and gave myself permission to just spit out whatever wanted to come out, no matter how silly or wild. In a short time, I had a draft of BEEP AND BOB, which is about a boy who is reluctantly sent to school in space, and his lost alien buddy. I let it burst with humor and heart, which for me are the two most important ingredients of my work.
But it didn’t take much stepping back to realize that trying to sell a zany, debut, sci-fi chapter-book series about unknown characters was going to be a quixotic challenge. Rare was the agent who even said they represented chapter books (I had since left my first agent). So back to perseverance, and that horrible chore of submission that all writers know.
Luckily, this time things turned out differently: I was soon signed by the awesome Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary, and within a month of submitting she sold it in a four-book-deal to Aladdin. Please don’t tell Natalie, or my editor Amy Cloud, that BEEP AND BOB was really just an exercise in embracing failure.
Besides Natalie and Amy, I’d like to thank Nina Simoneaux, who designed this cool cover (I provided the color character spots). Hope you enjoy! And never give up giving up.
Thank you, Jonathan, for sharing your journey to publication.
Jonathan is giving away an original, personalized drawing of BEEP to one lucky commenter.
Leave a message below to win. Share this cover reveal and receive an extra entry for each share–just post a comment for each, letting us know where you shared. Good luck!
Hey, do you know what time it is?
That’s right, it’s yay o’clock!
And you know what that means, don’t you?
It’s time to meet the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS!
Welcome to the Grumpy Woods!
Just kidding. No one is welcome here.
No, I’m just kidding again. That’s how these brand-spanking new chapter books begin. See, you’re already laughing three sentences in.
So let me present a more welcoming welcome.
The SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS are unlike anything you’ve seen in a chapter book series. Firstly, they are not some formula regurgitated in rainbow, written by an illusive nom-de-plume. No! These are the first books by up-and-coming author Marcie Colleen. In addition to this series, Marcie has the picture book LOVE, TRIANGLE releasing next year with Bob Shea (BOB SHEA, PEOPLE!!!) and THE ADVENTURE OF THE PENGUINAUT is blasting off soon, too.
Next, these books feature adorable, full color illustrations by Steve James. OMG, you do not know how SUPER HAPPY that makes me!
I have a reluctant reader at home (I know, can you believe it?!) and the thing she dislikes about chapter books are the black-and-white line drawings. She clings to picture books and their boundless art. With SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS, which she has SWIPED FROM ME to take to the first day of school, she doesn’t even realize she’s reading a chapter book because every page features a color illustration. Not only that, but there’s a flip-book animation in the corner of every title. In KNOCK KNOCK ON WOOD, Bubs shimmies with a hula hoop.
So let’s get back to the story. Every morning in the Grumpy Woods, where the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS live, the other residents don their cranky pants (really, a whole outfit).
Mayor Quill and his devoted subjects relish their grumpiness. They thrive on it. And the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS? They are ecstatic, dancing, blissful bears no matter what the forest folk throw at them. Nothing can dampen their desire to party. They just wanna bear hug everyone. They see the positive in everything. And you know, what a great attitude to share.
Now, even though the Mayor, Humphrey Hedgehog, Dawn Fawn and the others make their harumphs for the bears loud and clear, the whole party crew, from Littlest Bear to Big Puff, fail to notice. In fact, they worship Mayor Quill. This, of course, annoys the prickly politician to no pointy end.
Therein lies the humor. But that’s not ALL the humor! For parents reading along, there are clever asides and pop-culture nods.
Meet Ziggy. Ziggy plays guitar. ‘Nuff said.
Then there’s the famous SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS dance.
You wanna dance with me? Well, grab yourself a copy and shimmy, shimmy, shake!
Actually, you can grab TWO copies right here, one GNAWING AROUND and one KNOCK KNOCK ON WOOD, the first two books in the series from Macmillan’s new imprint, imprint. (So nice I said it twice.)
Just leave a comment to enter. PLUS, if you TWEET, FACEBOOK, REBLOG or otherwise share this review, you gain an extra entry, WOO-HOO! Just leave one comment per each method so I can tally your extra entries.
This will be a PARTY TO REMEMBER! GOOD LUCK!
I have something that’s so real.
Reality is your friend. That’s the best piece of advice I can give anyone about anything. Really.
Of course, it strikes even me that someone who makes a living distorting reality (i.e., writing fiction) would be so high on reality. Yet, here I am, with my message to other writers about elevating their fiction by keeping it real…
Now, let me take a step back and tell you that I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about when I came up with this reality idea. (It was really only based on Tara’s brilliant Vogue cover.) Should I talk about the business of publishing, or the craft of writing? Should I talk about balancing life and art, or about using literature to explore life through art? I could see the positives in each of those approaches, and it made it really difficult to get started. So then I thought, maybe I could touch upon a few of these topics? Not all in one post, obviously, but maybe Tara would let me guest blog a few more times?
That’s my plan, at least. Shhh. Don’t tell her.
I’ve decided in this round, I’m going to focus on how we can use the reality of life to create meaningful art. So, to get back to where we started:
Reality is your friend. That’s the best piece of advice I can give anyone about anything. Really. But especially when it comes to writing fiction, reality is your best friend. It’s reality that makes your fiction come to life.
Whenever I’m at a school to talk about writing with kids, I spend a lot of time telling kids that every book is an autobiography. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that in my private moments I am a vampire pig (à la HAMPIRE) or a chicken in pajamas (à la CHICKS RUN WILD). But every book I write is informed by my own reality. In some way or another, I am every one of my main characters. My kids are my main characters, too, sometimes individually or sometimes as a blended product, but there’s always a piece of me. Because, at the end of the day, if the only way to be a successful storyteller is to write what you know, well, is there anyone we know better than ourselves?
The temptation when we start writing is to create something grander, bigger, more than ourselves. After all, my life is fairly boring—I barely want to hear about it!—so why would anyone else want to read about my reality? So we start out creating characters that are better than everyone else, smarter, prettier, more talented, more perfect. Their adventures are epic. Their adversaries are the embodiment of evil.
And the result is often—not always, but often—unbelievable. In the “no one would believe this and therefore this story rings false” way.
As much as readers turn to literature to escape, to experience things that they cannot do, the reality is (and, remember, reality is your friend) that no reader likes to read about someone better than him for too long. The main character has to be relatable to keep a reader’s interest. And how do you craft a relatable character?
By making sure he is just a regular guy (who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.) Basically, by keeping him real.
(This is hardly new advice. In fact, I’ve given this advice myself in a different form in my picture book workshops – that you should always make sure your main character is interesting, but well and truly flawed. Because it’s the flaws that keep him real.)
So, how do we use reality to craft fictional characters? Obviously, we can’t just write about ourselves or our kids exactly as we are. (Trust me, I’ve tried that. That’s a little too much reality.) The trick, I’ve found, is to choose interesting traits (perhaps from several different sources) and blend them together to create a new, fictional character grounded in reality.
Here are some examples:
In HAMPIRE, Duck desperately wants a midnight snack, but is worried about running into the dreaded Hampire. The reality: every night, I want a midnight snack, and every night, I am convinced that if I step foot off my bed, the monsters will get me. The fiction: I am not a duck.
In PIRATE PRINCESS (available in May 2012 from HarperCollins), Princess Bea dreams of the pirate life, but when she boards the pirate ship, she realizes she’s awful at deck-swabbing (she has no housekeeping skills), she can’t be their galley cook (no culinary talents), and she is an ineffective lookout in the crow’s nest (she get’s seasick). The reality: I have no housekeeping skills, I have no culinary talents, I get seasick, and I think I’d look dashing in a pirate hat. The fiction: while Princess Bea doesn’t like to dress in silk, brocade, or chintz, and can’t stand the idea of being married to a prince, I love dressing up and look forward to a life with my Prince Charming (yes, Daniel Craig, I’m talking to you!).
In my forthcoming chapter book series, THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY, the main character, Destiny, discovers she needs glasses. She’s worried about what she will look like (especially about whether they will make her nose look big) and what others will think of her glasses, from her friends on her soccer team to her classmates in the fifth grade. This one is complicated, because I drew from a lot of different sources of reality, so here’s a little chart of some of the sources:
|Something about Destiny||The inspiration|
|She wears glasses||My daughter Brooklyn and I both wear glasses, and we both initially worried about what other people would think of them.|
|She’s concerned about the size of her nose.||I’m concerned about the massive size of my nose.|
|She’s in the 5th grade.||My daughter Bella is in the 5th grade.|
|She loves soccer.||Bella and Brooklyn both love soccer.|
|She plays goalie.||Brooklyn plays goalie.|
|She’s super smart.||Bella and Brooklyn are both super smart.|
|She’s afraid of spiders.||I’m afraid of spiders.|
|She’s Indian American.||My whole family is Indian American.|
|She lives in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.||We live in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.|
|Her first pair of glasses are dark tortoiseshell.||Brooklyn’s first pair of glasses are dark tortoiseshell.|
|Her second pair of glasses are black with zebra-printed sides.||Brooklyn’s new pair of glasses are black with zebra-printed sides.|
|Her glasses let her see bits of the future clearly.||Brooklyn’s glasses let her see the present clearly.|
Obviously, I could go on and on with more examples of traits that I drew from my life or from my children’s lives. But you’re getting the idea. Here’s something I would add, though: in every place in the revision process where my editor asked for more detail, the things I added were inevitably true things about someone in my house.
So, one more time, let’s go back to the beginning: reality is your friend.
Do you believe me yet?
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her picture book QUACKENSTEIN HATCHES A FAMILY was selected for the California Readers 2011 Book Collections for School Libraries. BALLOTS FOR BELVA was named to the 2009 Amelia Bloomer List and received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award in 2008 and FLYING EAGLE was a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book selection for Students K–12 in 2010. Her science book, NATURE SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS, was named a finalist for the 2011 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. And her books CHICKS RUN WILD (named one of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of the Year in 2012) and HAMPIRE! (nominated for a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award) are her personal favorites, and just fabulous.
Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at www.sudipta.com.
P.S. If you love Sudipta’s author headshot above, her photographer LifeArt Imaging is currently running a Groupon. Click here!