My little blog has become a bit dusty over the past two weeks, mainly because I’ve been in the revision cave with the first round edits for TORCH, due on August 6. I was planning to talk a little bit about the revision process today, but I received some unexpected news. Unexpected because it was supposed to come out next week, but also unexpected because I never saw myself becoming…a picture book author!
But here I am, with my DEBUT PICTURE BOOK!!! The announcement came out in Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf today:WAYS TO PLAY is not my first attempt at a picture book story. I wrote my first in 1990 and have more than a dozen on my hard drive, most of them written in the past five years. I came close in 2007 with one called THE PIRATE TREE. It went to an acquisition meeting at a smaller publisher but was not chosen because it didn’t quite fit the publisher’s specialization. Later on, I donated the title of this unsold novel to a website that reviews children’s and YA books on social justice topics. (I do promise to continue reviewing for The Pirate Tree once I’ve met my looming deadlines.) When I started translating picture books from Portuguese to English, my former agent sent several of my own stories to editors, whereupon she and I discovered that translating and writing picture books involve two different skill sets that don’t necessarily transfer. One editor told former agent that I didn’t have the sensibility to write picture books.
I didn’t want to give up, however. I have this desire to see my stories accompanied by illustrations that can provide layers of understanding and/or take the stories in a whole different direction. Over the years, I’ve learned to make room for the illustrator and trust that the artist will not only get the story but add their own sensibility to it. For someone accustomed to stories featuring a protagonist with a strong desire and a character arc, biography seemed to be a viable alternative. I took a course with the brilliant Nancy Churnin and wrote a picture book biography. It didn’t sell in the first round of submission, but it opened opportunities for me to write biographies for older readers, including the forthcoming FILM MAKERS, a collective biography of 15 contemporary women directors that I’m writing with Tanisia “Tee” Moore.
Two of my other projects — my forthcoming YA novel TORCH and another biography that has not yet been announced — as well as my Lego building, inspired me to return to fiction picture books with WAYS TO PLAY. I’d been made to feel that I wasn’t was clever enough to write picture books, but I found the perfect story for someone who wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. WAYS TO PLAY has attitude, and it has imagination, but it’s not the kind of imagination that people expect from a picture book. I took my cue from my beloved bichon frise, Charlie, who loved to play games, but not in predictable ways and never the same way twice.
I doubt that Gabe’s dog in WAYS TO PLAY will look like Charlie, but I feel that he will live long beyond his 15 years in this story. It will be a fitting tribute to a very good and loving boy. I can’t wait for my daughter, Maddy, to present this book in her elementary school class and talk about her years with Charlie, taking him to obedience school, walking him, playing with him, and teaching him not to bark at the big dogs.
Among children’s and YA writers, a “triple threat” is someone who has published picture books, middle grade, and YA. The year 2022 will be my triple threat, with, in tentative order of publication, MOONWALKING, TORCH, and WAYS TO PLAY. I thank Arthur Levine, Nick Thomas, and Meghan McCullough at Levine Querido for giving me this opportunity to debut as a picture book author and to work with Gabriel Alborozo, whose illustrations (especially those in This Old Dog, written by Martha Brockenbrough) I adore. I also thank my agent Jacqui Lipton, who helped me through various drafts and is brilliant. My preempted post is on agent revisions, so more on her brilliance forthcoming! Also forthcoming — more Lego pictures to accompany the launch of WAYS TO PLAY!