I am fortunate enough to be in a critique gorup with the fabulously talented Bonny Becker.
Bonny is the author of the wonderful picture book, A Visitor for Bear, as well as many other books. When Bear recently won the 2009 E.B. White Read-Aloud award (as well as several other awards) I was thinking that this was one of those times it would be fun for her to have a blog so she could talk about the experience.
Since Bonny doesn’t blog I offered her my blog space to put together a post to speak to her fans. She said she would like to talk about writing picture books so if you have any questions for Bonny about writing picture books, please post them here and I’ll pass them on to her.
Check out this lovely interview with Becky Levine, otherwise known around these parts as, well,
At last, and with no further ado, here are Jim’s answers to your questions. Some of them had to do with his book, IN A BLUE ROOM, some had to do with his process and some were just plain fun which will really give you some sense of what Jim is like in person. Thank you to everyone who asked such terrific questions!
First off, the winning question that Jim chose as his favorite.
If all of your art supplies became magically edible, which would you eat, and why? What do you think it would taste like? (come on. we both know you’ve been eyeing the crimson pencil. Raspberry maybe?)
My Prismacolor pencils are without doubt the most appetizing. Each one would be a different flavor, of course. The creamy titanium-white oil paint would be a delicious vanilla topping for the pastels. Actually, when I was a child of 2 or 3, I drank turpentine. My mom wouldn’t give me any Seven-Up that my older brother and 3 older sisters were drinking, so I mixed my own out of the pretty blue can they were using while doing an art project for school. I was always a self-sufficient child, if not very bright. A stomach-pumping visit to the hospital was the highlight of my mother’s day.
JIM’S THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK IN A BLUE MOON
What were you doing the moment you got the call that you had sold your book, and do you remember the first words out of your mouth?
I was at my house in the country writing. I don’t remember the words, but my feet did a little happy dance.
Did the moon ever follow you on a car trip at night? Where were you going? Tell us a little more.
It was 1969 and I was on the way back from a night of experimentation on the Berkeley campus. The moon not only followed me, it drove me home in a buggy pulled by 32 white rabbits and English vicar in a Richard Nixon mask. We stopped at White Castle’s on the way.
What are your favorite songs with MOON or BLUE or ROOM in the title (or playing a prominent role in the lyrics)? (I hope you are playing a mix of blue/moon/room songs for your book launch parties starting with Bob Dylan’s version of BLUE MOON, & Billie Holiday’s AM I BLUE? then John Mayall’s ROOM TO MOVE.) What songs might come next? What order would you prefer?
Blue Moon is a favorite song, though I prefer the version by Mel Tormé. And I’d have to include Blues in the Night as sung by Paula West.
Were you afraid of the dark when you were Alice’s age? What else were you afraid of at age 4? Age 7? Age 10-12 As a teen? Now?”
Yes. Leeches. Body Snatching Pods from Outer Space. Nuns. Sex. Nothing.
JIM ON WRITING
Which of your (picture book) writing tips would also be useful to those of us who are writing books for adult audiences?
If the problem is in the ending, the solution is in the beginning. I talk to a lot of writers who get stuck when they come to the end of the story, and they re-work the ending and re-work it and wonder why they can’t get it right. I usually think the answer is to re-work the beginning of the story. That’s where you need to fix things, change things, add things to make the ending work.
How do you deal with self doubt, or your inner critic?
I actually listen to my inner critic. The conversation usually goes something like this:
I.C. “That sentence stinks!”
Me “Oh yeah? Well, what do you suggest, Mr. Know-It-All?”
At this point the inner critique either offers something worthwhile or remains silent. If it offers something worthwhile, I replace the line. If silent, I change the font to another color, so I can spot the terrible line later on, and keep writing.
Self doubt is different than an inner critic. Self doubt comes from fear. When self doubt shows up, I spank it firmly and send it to bed.
What is the best piece of writing advice someone ever gave you?
Andrea Davis Pinkney says “Carry a notebook at all times.” She’s right. How many brilliant ideas have I lost for lack of something to write with or on?
What is your greatest fear?
I’ve done a great deal of work to bury all my fears, useless things that they are, deep deep down where they will never see the light of day. I think I’d like to leave them there.
When you write, do you think about what it is you want to offer the children in your audience? And what is it? Comfort, empathy, ideas, magic???
You know, I write to please the child inside of me. I don’t believe I think too much about the audience. I think if I did, I’d be paralyzed. I write things that delight, terrify, comfort, prod, excite, calm and move my inner child.
The ultimate pimp-out of a book is to be a selection in Oprah’s book club. Do you want us to start a campaign to get you time on the big O’s show, and if you got to sit with her, what questions would you want to/be willing to answer in front of Oprah on national television?
Oh, yes. If you can get me on Oprah, please feel free to do so. I’d like her to ask me “What does it feel like to be a Newbery-winning, New York Times best-selling, millionaire picture book writer?” I’d be willing to answer any question she can think to ask, but that would be the one I’d want to hear.
Jim with Linda and Dennis, the owners of the fabulous independent bookstore, Linden Tree, in Los Altos.
ON BEING JIM
You are what you eat. How did your dinner last night influence the man you have become today?
Last night was the launch party for my book, In a Blue Room. I had the party catered, so I ate polenta squares with artichoke puree and sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and almond stuffed dates, and chips with roasted garlic and pineapple spread. Then I washed it all down with champagne. This meal required me to spend an hour on the treadmill to become less of the man that I have become today.
What did you seek in the moon as a child? Man in the moon? Bunny? Cheese? Something else?
A bunny! I could never understand how anyone saw anything else. Oddly, when I look up at the moon as an adult I no longer see the bunny. Did they change it when I wasn’t looking?
Describe your sense of humor, what makes you laugh?
I don’t believe in laughing or humor. I maintain a strict policy of seriousness at all times. (And that, I hope, will give you your answer.)
What was your going to bed ritual when you were a kid?
I’d brush my teeth, then try valiantly to delay bedtime through the usual tactics: glasses of water, demands for stories, closet inspections, etc. My younger brother and I shared a room, so I’d torment him for a bit by telling ghost stories and rigging up scary props around the room that would be revealed when I pulled a string next to my headboard. My bed was next to the wall, and I remember that I would always push the mattress over a little so I could sleep in the crack between it and the wall. Hopefully, there are no child psychologists out there reading this. I’m sure there’s something diagnosable in there.
Alice and her mom obviously have a bedtime ritual that works for Alice. In your own life, what are your own must-do rituals?
The room must be 68 degrees or cooler. I crawl under my 750# fill down comforter, which I use year-round as I live in San Francisco, place all the pillows just so, and then read until the book falls out of my hands, at which time I turn out the light and go to sleep.
Do you dream in black and white or color–and if your dreams are colorful, what kind of palette do you remember on waking?
Definitely in color, but in the dreamworld, as in life, the palette chosen depends on the story unfolding.
What haven’t I asked that I should have asked?
That depends on what you want to know. Just don’t ask about my dog.
Can we have a great big YAHOO for Bonny Becker and her wonderful picture book A Visitor for Bear?
Yes, we can!
A Visitor for Bear was name Book of the Year by my fabulous independent bookstore, Hicklebees! I always knew those folks at Hicklebee’s were some of the smartest folks around!
And psst, wanna know a secret? A Visitor for Bear will be the contest prize for next month’s contest!
Stay tuned for more details.
Woohoo! Congratulations, Bonny!
You only have a few days left to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Jim Averbeck’s stunning picture book, IN A BLUE ROOM.
Entering is easy! Just leave an interview question for Jim right here in the comments section. If you don’t have a LJ account, you can still enter, just make sure I know how to contact you in case you do win.
Here’s the deal – when you are promoting a new book there are often a lot of opportunities for interviews but after a while there are only so many ways you can answer the question “Where did you get the idea for your book?” You begin to long for that great/unique/offbeat/ or just plain weird question that will give something different to say. Send in a question for Jim to answer and the very best interview question will win. Best is a relative term as judged by, well, Jim himself!
I am actually giving away 3 copies of this book so there are 3 ways to enter. Read about the other two ways to enter here.
So put your thinking cap on and let’s give Jim some creative questions.
All entries must be received by June 1st.
Fuse #8 does a lovely job of capturing all the wonderfulness that is in this book in her review.
And best of all, there are more Bear adventures coming in the future!
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the book launch for the very fun book China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book, written by our one and only
Books Inc in Mountain View is so supportive of local authors (they hosted my launch for Hugging the Rock too!) and I loved walking in and seeing so many people there to support Debbi on her very special day. I got to meet her adorable husband Bob, who does indeed exist. (I’ve been teasing her that he is a figment of her imagination as he is gone so much of the time.) I also got to meet her very charming mother who was obviously very proud of her talented daughter.
There was much picture taking and munching on yummy food. The always delightful
and the divine Miss Shannon were also in attendence. Congratulations, Debbi!
Jim Averbeck, friend and recent Regional Advisor for my NORCA SCBWI region, has his first picture book coming out from Harcourt in April 2008. It’s called In a Blue Room and is illustrated by Tricia Tusa. The publicist at Harcourt wants to send Jim on a blog tour. Since Jim is new to the idea of blogs and blog tours I told him I would throw the request out to the kidlitosphere and see if anyone wanted to get him signed up now for an event to help launch his book. Jim is an illustrator as well as an author and you can see more of his artwork on his website.
If you’d like to host Jim on a blog tour you can either contact him directly at kidlit AT springmail DOT com or leave a note here in the comments and I’m happy to forward it on to him for you.
In other thoughts, did anyone else win a snowflake? I’m tickeld to learn that I did, indeed, win ”Maude” by Ilene Richard. There’s something about the 3D ones that appeal to me – those authors thinking outside of the box.
Because we’re in different time zones I’m posting this before I go to bed so she’ll see it when she gets up in the morning so even though it isn’t officially Monday the 15ths I want to shout out -
Happy birthday to
Laura is force behind the addicting and impulsive Poems of 15 Words or less that many of us do on Poetry Friday. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out her blog for more info. I am also lucky enough to be in a critique group with her.
Today, Jane Yolen, said goodbye to her husband David for the last time. To know a bit more about David, you can rvead his website and listen to some of his lovely bird recordings.
Those of us who have been following her journal know what a difficult time she has had watching her best friend drift away from her. Read her announcement.
Rest in peace, David Stemple. You were a good man whose time came much too soon.
Jane, we hold you in our hearts.