Once upon a Peanut & Moe...

I like a catchy jingle. I like to either make them up or co-opt them from pop-culture and make them my own. I guess you could say it's my 'thing', though not many people know this about me.

Many years ago I took a depressing indie tune with the lyrics 'too much, not too much' and turned it into the more upbeat and amusing, 'Too much mayo, not enough mayo'. (I will gladly sing it for you if you see me in real life and ask nicely)  Naturally, I sang it to make turkey sandwiches.

On a quiet drive home from an illustrator meeting, I somehow realized 'too much! not enough!" was a fantastic refrain for a picture book. This may have been my first original idea for a book of my own. And if it wasn't, it was certainly the first one that seemed good enough to remember.

It seems like a bit of a miracle, but this little note from nine years ago fits the book coming out in August. Originally I named the monsters Little & Big. Names would go through major revisions, but the characters never wavered.

I struck gold (sort of!) with premise #2. The first part is essentially what happens, and they do get to camp under the stars but you have to wait until book #2 comes out next year.

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So, you might be thinking, "What the heck took nine years if you figured all this out from the start?". I'm showing you snippets from a notebook that I started on August 20th, 2009. My son was 8 months old and I was on the verge of a breakdown because I just needed time to myself to make art. That Sunday morning I left with a mission, putting my husband on baby duty, while I grabbed a new notebook and headed for the nearest coffee shop. I got there and it wasn't open yet. Wasn't going to be open anytime soon, in fact. I may have cried. But then I got to work. I sat in my car and wrote page after page. I doodled ideas for what these monster friends looked like. I thought of all the ways they could irritate each other, and how the little guy would make things better. And then I went home. Back to my overwhelmed new stay-at-home-mom life. But the glimmer of this book was a life line. 

I worked on this story all those years. Bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say. I made art. I made dummies. I shared them with critique partners and started from scratch again. I got an agent and we submitted my dummy. It made it to sales and acquisitions and to revision with two lovely publishers at the same time. And because publishing is often perplexing and unpredictable, it ended up back on my desk again. There was a small army of wonderful friends who listened when I grouched about how long it was all taking. I got busy with other projects and sold my first book, SMALL. Around the same time, I illustrated a book with a fantastic editor at Tundra books. When it was time to think about my monsters again, my agent and I wondered. Perhaps Samantha Swenson would be a good match? The first news was good! But then time went by (again, publishing) and I worried. But the real news was spectacular. Not only did Tundra want to publish TOO MUCH, they offered me a two book deal. And as fate would have it, that second book is another Peanut & Moe story. I had known these characters for so long, that they almost wrote their own second story. Oh, pish. I wrote it. With the wonderful and smart guidance of my editor, Sam. And this one didn't take nine years from start to finish. It took under a year.

I will share a lot about Peanut & Moe in the weeks leading up to their book debut, but I wanted to start here. Whether you are a reader, a teacher, or a pre-published author, I hope you walk away learning a bit about what inspires me as a writer (jingles!) and what helped me publish this book (tenacity! passion! good friends! never quitting! a great agent, editor, and publisher!)

Giveaway and NESCBWI recap

With Father's Day around the corner, I thought it was a great time to have a book giveaway. I'm giving away one copy of IT'S GREAT BEING A DAD by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by me. The giveaway ends May 30th and I will notify the winner promptly. Open to anyone 18+ years of age in US or Canada.

I promised a little NESCBWI Conference recap, so here are my top five takeaways:

1. Oh, hello! Taking a few years off of this conference was exactly what I needed in order to reboot my perspective. I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people and listening to where they are on their journey. We all know we are part of a tribe, but this tribe comes from a million unique and interesting places - and it was a blast getting to soak it all up. And I had the special privilege of meeting (IRL!) some of my newest tribe - Picture The Books 2017 We are a group of debut children's book authors and illustrators. Their collective talent is only surpassed by their kindness.

From left to right: Mike Malbrough, Emma Otheguy, Alison Goldberg, Heather Pruesser, Gina Perry, Vivian Kirkfield

2. Always take Sudipta's workshops. I've said this before on my blog. If you want to walk away from a writing workshop with tools to improve, look no further than Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Also, you will NEVER fall asleep in her presence. Even after you stayed up way too late both nights before...

3. Mr Schu is in the house. Pass the tissues. I was literally tearing up within 2 minutes of Mr. Schu's presentation. In a good way, of course. I am SO thankful to NESCBWI for snagging him for a moment of his busy year to remind us WHY we write for kids. I am so thrilled for all the kids around the country that will be infected with his sheer joy and love for books. His presentation wasn't all inspiration - I walked away with some really good tips about presenting my work online (BIG, clean book cover jpegs, ready for sharing!) and finding a larger tribe of librarian and teacher advocates. 

4. And the award goes to... Christina Rodriguez! Honestly, that was the most polished, entertaining presentation... not including all the illustrator antics on stage. Or the fabulous prizes! I hope Sketch Battle returns at every possible opportunity. Or you trademark it and make it a prime time show. Thanks for bringing the fun (and the chocolates), Christina!

5. Vita Lane: ready for takeoff! Is there nothing better than seeing a good friend succeed? Keep an eye on my very dear friend, Vita Lane. She has always inspired me in all her creative accomplishments. But her latest work is just blowing me away. It's so good I have to share... Go read her post about her latest project and drool over her beautiful watercolors. 

Be sure to enter the giveaway, it ends on May 30th (Psst. Starting on May 22nd, I'm also hosting a separate giveaway over on GoodReads)