When I sat down to begin this post, I had every intention of writing about making book dummies. (Spoiler, I’m not going to write about dummy making.) However, as I began looking back through old dummies and the material that led to my debut author/illustrated picture book (The Little Green Girl, Dial 2019), I couldn’t help marveling at the dates on my early drafts. I ended up on a wild hunt through boxes of dummies and sketchbooks, an ancient laptop, and finally our current computer.
I found the first drawing of my main character in a sketchbook from 2014. At the time, I knew right away that this little character had a story to tell, and I remember quickly filling the page around her with additional character sketches as well as scratchy story notes, and a tiny drawing of a garden gnome. (Poor gnome didn’t make it into even the first dummy.)
The gnome isn’t the only thing that I cut from those early drafts. Very little remains from the first draft of the story other than the Little Green Girl and her gardener, Mr. Aster. The plot, the emotional narrative of both characters, the resolution—all of it is different in the book that will be published next year.
This book is not a story that wrote itself. I found five InDesign drafts on my old laptop and eight additional drafts on the new computer. The Little Green Girl took three years and thirteen drafts to sell, and it’ll be almost exactly five years from that very first sketch to the book’s publishing date. I’m telling you all of this not to discourage anyone, but rather to say that if you’ve ever had an idea for a character or a story, stick with it. You never know; it just may end up on a bookshelf one day.
And to be practical, here are a few pointers on revisions from someone who is terrible at killing her darlings:
We are super excited to kick off the first of our Notable19 interview series with Shauna LaVoy Reynolds whose debut book, POETREE, will be out with Dial/Penguin in Spring 2019! You can find out more about Shauna at her website, but for our interview series, we asked fun and unusual questions that you probably won't see elsewhere so you really get to know our creators.
Notable19: What do you think about when you have trouble falling asleep?
Shauna: Ugggh, that’s the worst! Thankfully, I’m quite skilled at getting to sleep. But when I’m struggling, or even sometimes when I’m feeling anxious and need to distract myself, I think about my Granny’s house. I’ll pick a room or two and try to remember what it was like. Every last detail. Maybe it’s the kitchen, with the world’s sweetest tea in the avocado green refrigerator. Or the back bedroom, with the shelf of Reader’s Digest condensed books and the drop side crib full of my mom’s old dolls. Sometimes it’s the laundry detergent scent and faux bois carpet in the garage. (Yes, faux bois carpet. Yes, in the garage. I would never judge your Granny’s decor choices!) Anyway, it’s kind of like going to a different homey and cozy time and place without leaving my bed. It works every time.
N19: What a wonderful memory of your Granny's house! And if it helps you fall asleep, than all the more sweet (like the tea in her fab green fridge). Speaking of green, if you were a new color in the crayon box, what color would you be?
Shauna: I used to always say my favorite color was Post-It Note yellow, but I’m sure that’s heavily trademarked. The Post-It lawyers are probably drafting a cease and desist right now. I’ll brighten it up a bit and call it Front Door Yellow, because there’s nothing more welcoming than a cheery yellow front door. You could also use it to color a forsythia bush, or a goldfinch, or a rubber ducky, or a smiley face. Sunny and versatile.
N19: Smart to not piss off the 3M company people. LOL! Yellow is a great color! What is the most well-known book you’ve never read?
Shauna: I’ve never finished a Jane Austen book. Just not my thing! Sorry! I don’t feel too bad, because she probably wouldn’t like my books either.
N19: Not everyone has to like everyone else's books, that's for sure. If you could invent a holiday, what would it be?
Shauna: In all seriousness, I think Election Day should be a national holiday. And for a fun one, how about Pajama Day? We could even combine them and vote in our jammies. Kids would get so excited about being future voters! Let’s do this.
N19: That is a brilliant idea! Let's start a petition to get that going. :) What is hardest for you about writing? Easiest?
Shauna: The hardest part of writing picture books is brevity. I like to use my words. I like to describe the heck out of things. I’m tempted to make this answer a thousand words long, but I won’t. The easiest is coming up with ideas. I have thousands of ideas, hundreds of good ideas, and maybe even dozens of viable ideas. They’re literally everywhere! Spinning them into stories — that’s a bit trickier. It’s a joy, but it sure isn’t easy.
N19: We hear you on that! How is the main character in POETREE like you?
Shauna: I didn’t realize how much Sylvia and I are alike until I was finished working on this story. Like me, Sylvia is a shy daydreamer with a lot to say and her own way of saying it. And like me, she writes to make better sense of the world around her and the feelings inside her.
N19: Sylvia sounds like a character a lot of us bookish types can relate to. We can't wait to get acquainted with her when your book comes out! Thanks for sharing these super fun facts about yourself, Shauna!
Be sure to follow us and Shauna on Twitter so you can see her news and updates as she eagerly awaits her book birthday. You can pre-order POETREE at Parnassus Bookstore's website. Thank you for coming by!
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!