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If you don’t know VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, expect her to ring your doorbell this Halloween. Thousands of youngsters now tune into her tippy-toe Translyvania-to-Pennsylvania travels on Disney Junior. VAMPIRINA also traveled from picture books to TV, or rather from the creative mind of author Anne Marie Pace (and illustrator LeUyen Pham) to animation stardom.

With so many new players in entertainment—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon—film and television producers are increasingly seeking out proven characters and storylines from published books. In recent years we have seen BOSS BABY commute from Marla Frazee’s picture book to the big screen, plus Judith Viorst’s Alexander endured his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in live-action turmoil.

With the release of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW, the newest picture book in the Vampirina Ballerina series, I wanted to talk to Anne Marie about her writing and Vampirina on TV…plus celebrate all her success.

      

Anne Marie, congratulations on your newest VAMPIRINA book!

When you wrote the first VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, was it a standalone story, or did you have a picture book series in mind?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry, as far as I knew at the time, suggested writing one standalone, and if the publishers wanted more, they’d ask.  So I definitely saw it as a one-off. I’m glad that kids have responded well to it so that I can come back to Vampirina’s world again and again.  These days, I do think middle-grade and young-adult series are sometimes envisioned and sold as series, but that would be unusual for picture books.

When did Disney*Hyperion ask you to expand VAMPIRINA into a series? Was it when you first submitted, during production of the first book, or after it proved to be a popular seller?

When I saw this question, I couldn’t remember, so I did a quick search through old emails, and it seems it was about ten months before the first book came out, so that means during the production of the first book! I didn’t remember that! I would have guessed right around the time the first book came out, but I would have been wrong.

What about VAMPIRINA makes her a good subject for a series?

In many ways, Vampirina is like every other child: she wants to try new activities, be successful, have friends. All of those aspects of her character help kid readers relate to her as a peer. But the vampire element obviously makes her stand out from the crowd. She’s realistic and fantastic, all rolled into one.

Vampirina must be very relatable, since she went from book, to series, to TV. Can you tell us how that happened?

It was a long process, and I don’t know all the details. I can tell you what I assume and what I actually know. I have always assumed that because Disney*Hyperion is part of the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Company they send all their new books to the TV/film folks as a matter of course. Someone at Disney Junior must have thought it had series potential. What I know is that Disney Junior bought an option for the series fairly early on. That option was renewed several times while they considered development. At some point, they decided to acquire the TV rights. Even then, it wasn’t positive that it would be a series. So we waited longer until we knew the series was a go. The entire process, from the first time my agent called with the news of the option until the show premiered, was about four years.

Four years! Sounds like the picture book process.

Some PB writers may assume you write for the TV show. Do you? 

No, I actually have nothing to do with writing the series. The Disney Junior folks do their thing for the show, and LeUyen Pham and I do our thing for our books. And that’s just fine—I don’t know how to write for television and I’m busy writing new books, both Vampirina and otherwise. Most of what I know about the series I find out on Twitter!

What has been the most surprising thing about Vampirina on TV?

Since I didn’t really know much about how TV works, I was surprised that it went worldwide right away and that there was merchandise right away. I had assumed that the show would have to do well first in the US, and then it might be translated and that there might be merchandise. I had no idea it would all happen at the same time.

Has the TV show increased your VAMPIRINA book sales?

What a great question, but I don’t really have an answer for you! From my vantage point, it seems that the books bring viewers to the TV show and the TV show brings readers to the book series.

Often you see licensed early readers based on TV shows. Are there any for Vampirina and have you been tapped to write them?

There are quite a few licensed 8x8s and early readers, but no, I don’t write them. I believe some are written by the show’s writers because they are based on particular episodes. I know at least one is by Chelsea Beyl, who will be a co-executive producer of Season 3.

Wow, Season 3 already!

Have you spotted Vampirina in the wild? What are you going to do if kids dressed as Vampirina come to your door on Halloween?

Well, there are thousands of photographs on Instagram of adorable kids wearing Vee costumes or having a Vampirina party or singing into their Vee microphones, but I haven’t personally encountered a Vee in real life yet. If someone comes to my door on Halloween, I’ll probably just smile to myself. It’s a big leap to explain to the younger kids what it means to have written the Vampirina Ballerina book when TV Vampirina looks quite different.

Women in children’s publishing are finally opening up about how male authors & illustrators are given more attention and accolades. I think the fact that you have a book series and TV show should have received more coverage. Do you feel similarly?

I have been both fascinated and concerned by the revelations and discussions that began publicly last spring with #kidlitwomen and that have continued to take place through the Kidlitwomen podcasts that Grace Lin has been facilitating. I’d urge anyone reading this interview who isn’t familiar with the podcast to check out the excellent content that Grace has been putting out with authors like Kate Messner, Tracey Baptiste, and Shannon Hale, who speak and write so eloquently about the issues. These conversations are much needed, not just in the publishing industry, but in our culture and our world overall, and I’m glad to see people opening up about their experiences.

But as important as those conversations are, I have to tell you that I could not begin to answer your question specifically in regards to my books and career. In our industry, there aren’t clear consistent guidelines for advances, for publicity dollars, for all the ways that books and authors get attention. If I’m working in a factory, and I produce 2734 doodads a day, and the man next to me produces 2734 doodads a day, and my doodads are identical and of equal quality to his doodads, it seems obvious that we should earn the same amount of money per doodad. But books are judged subjectively at every step of the journey, from acquisition to publicity to critical response; that judgment involves literally dozens of variables; and creators are generally not part of that conversation. The discussion about whether or not the creator’s gender affects that response absolutely needs to happen, but on a broader level than I am able to do.

Of course, when it all comes down to it, when I sit down to write a new Vampirina or revise the middle-grade novel I’ve been working on for sixteen+ years, it’s all about the work. I love that Vampirina is a brave and determined little vampire girl; I love that the protagonist in my MG historical fiction learns to speak up for herself and make waves the best way she knows how, given her time and place in history. I think I write them differently in 2018 than I would have in 1998 because I’m a stronger, more informed woman.

I think Grace Lin should ask you to speak on the Kidlitwomen podcast.

So do you feel like you know what it takes to write a book that gets picked up for other entertainment markets? What have your learned from this whole VAMPIRINA process?

Honestly, I don’t. Most books that are picked up for TV have a unique protagonist, like Arthur, Vampirina, Fancy Nancy, or Clifford. But beyond that, I have no idea why one character is picked up and another isn’t.  To me, it feels more like a lightning strike than anything I made happen and I don’t mean to sound disingenuous when I say that  It’s just that in publishing, the work is all you have control over. If you do good work consistently, sometimes good things happen. But other times, nothing happens at all. Don’t we all have manuscripts that we know are well-written and fun and child-friendly—but they simply don’t sell? I have a stack of them. The three manuscripts I believe to be the absolute best things I’ve written have never sold. I have heard authors who complain when others attribute someone’s success to luck. I understand where those authors are coming from, because they’ve done the work and they want credit for doing the work. But I can’t answer your question without recognizing the role that luck played in this whole scenario. Why Vampirina? Why now? I simply don’t have an answer for that. You can substitute the word “timing” for “luck” if you prefer—but either way, there were a lot of factors at play, and I controlled only one of them.

Anne Marie, thank you for answering these questions so thoroughly and honestly. I wish you continued success with all things Vampirina!

Happy VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW release day!

Disney*Hyperion is giving away a copy of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW.

Leave one comment below to enter the giveaway (US postal addresses only, please).

A winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

In the meantime, you can learn more about Anne Marie Pace and her books at AnneMariePace.com.

 

Say hello to Maria Gianferrari & Becca! (And their bookshelves! Impressive!)

I have known Maria for years now–first as a reader of this blog, then as a jewelry customer (I make earrings and necklaces in my spare time) and now as a fellow author and agent-sister! Maria has one of these rip-roaring breakout careers where she has sold umpteen books in no time and has even landed her first picture book series, PENNY & JELLY! Wow!

To celebrate the release of Maria’s second book in the PENNY & JELLY series, SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS, I asked editor Cynthia Platt and Maria a few questions—and they gave me three books to give away!

pennyjelly2

Cynthia, many writers dream of landing a picture book series. As an editor, what do you look for in a story that gives it series potential?

I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily on the lookout for picture book series as a general rule, but I am always pleased when something calls out for more than a single book. For me, the strength of the picture book character is everything in terms of determining whether there might be series potential. It has to be someone I want to spend a lot of time with—and about whom I think kids will feel similarly. Humor also plays a huge role. No one wants a dreary picture book series (at least I don’t). With Penny & Jelly, I was immediately drawn to Penny’s personality and also to the very warm, very loving relationship between girl and dog. I also loved—from the moment I read the first draft of the first book—the creativity Penny possesses. She’s got such a can-do attitude, and she makes things happen for herself (even if she has to work through a few lists and a lot of craft supplies to do it). So, the story hit a lot of sweet spots for me as an editor.

pennyjellyexcited

Was PENNY & JELLY originally pitched as a series, or was it something you decided would be made into a series?

It wasn’t pitched as a series. After reading Penny & Jelly: The School Show, we approached Maria and her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, about doing more than one book. Then Maria came up with the brilliant idea of a Slumber Under the Stars theme for the second book.

Maria, did you envision Penny & Jelly as a series when you first wrote it? 

I didn’t initially envision it as a series, but I was thrilled that Cynthia and HMH presented me with a two-book deal because they felt that Penny & Jelly were lovable characters with a special bond that they could envision as a series.

Did you imagine what Penny & Jelly looked like? Did you have a role in helping to pick Thyra Heder as the illustrator?

I had a very vague sense of what Penny & Jelly might look like. Since Penny & Jelly were characters inspired by my daughter, Anya, and her canine BFF, Becca, it was hard to picture them any other way than this, my favorite photo of the two besties.

I didn’t have a direct role in selecting Thyra, but Cynthia presented her work to me and asked for my input. Of course, I loved it. I could tell right away she was a dog lover like me when I saw these early Jellys, and I knew she was just a perfect fit to illustrate the Penny & Jelly books!

Jelly_ideas

How adorable! I love her doggy design sense! (Is the middle pup available for adoption?)

Cynthia & Maria, thank you for stopping by on the PENNY & JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS blog tour. And thank you for the three-book giveaway!

Leave a comment below to enter, US residents only, please. Winners will be chosen by the end of the month.

GOOD LUCK!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

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