The Business of Writing
Once you’ve gotten a query letter past an editor or two and a manuscript to publication, other writers want to know the secret to your success. I was recently asked to give advice to people working on query letters. Based on the query letters we workshopped, it seems that unpublished writers often confuse a query letter with a book synopsis or resume. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on query letters, here are a few things I try to keep in mind.
1) When seeking representation or publishing the first series of gatekeepers you need to get through are not the target audience for your book. You have to speak their language, which can be quite different from the language, style, and tone you use with your potential reader. I think of it as red vs. white flags. The more white flags you can wave in their faces, the higher your chances of going on. Save the complex critical analysis of your literary themes for author interviews and conference talks. For a query, think of your manuscript in terms of a 30 second movie ad on TV rather than a three minute theatrical trailer.
2) While editors wax poetic about the craft of writing, the art of storytelling, and the next great American novel, in a query letter they aren’t looking for the next Pulitzer Prize, but a reason to look at the manuscript. Their goal is to sell books at a profit. Speak to the banker, not the muse or awards committee.
3) Writers generally think the purpose of a query letter is to sell a manuscript; it’s really much more. It’s selling you as an author. It takes at least one and sometimes two or more years from acquisition to print. Publishers want to know if they can work with you through the process. The theory here is that a good editor can always fix a book, but no one can fix a difficult author.
Some points along this vein:
- Can you follow directions, i.e. give them what they asked for in three paragraphs: hook, micro-synopsis, writer’s bio?
- Do you know your audience? The idea is that good authors can identify their target audience readily—as well as have the ability to explain why their book will appeal to this reader and not that reader wandering over there in the cookbook section.
- Is it clear to the editor how your book is similar to and different from other successful titles in your genre? Also, does the editor believe you know this information?
- How familiar are you with your market? Do you seem to have a grasp of what’s considered publishable in terms of length, style, theme, and hook?
- Are you marketable? Your query letter gives potential editors a lot of clues about whether you can speak intelligently about writing and books and can build an audience. If an editor is interested, he/she will check out your Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts to get a better feel for you as an author long before they read word one of the manuscript.
Final tip: as an author have some public social media in place before sending out query letters. Your friends-only Facebook account showcasing your debauched college days or public Pinterest boards of kittens and cupcake recipes don’t count. At the very least, start a public fan page on Facebook and create a blog using a free service like WordPress and post a couple of things for editors to find if they look. The time to build a social network platform begins the moment you think, “Hmmm. This is pretty good. Wonder if anyone else would be interested in it?”
I admit, that’s a lot to cover in a one page letter. These are my opinions; what are some of yours? What do you think successful query letters have in common?
One of the great things about being a writer today is having choices about how your story gets into the hands of a reader. It’s also one of the toughest and most confusing. When writers ask me what’s the best way to publish a book, I have to tell them that the answer isn’t one-size fits all. It depends on your ambitions, reasons for writing, and how you define success. Someone who sees publishing as business first, art second, is going to make very different choices than someone who writes for writing’s sake. I believe every writer needs an overall plan; I think of it as a business plan, but it doesn’t need to be as formal or in-depth as something you’d create for a bank loan.
The following are questions I encourage every poor soul silly enough to ask me for writing advice to answer for themselves. Take the time to ponder and answer honestly because the your responses will determine the direction you take in everything from a query letter to a final edit. The key here is that there are no right or wrong answers, only honest ones with no judgment intended.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Why are you seeking publication? Is it to share a message, make money, fame, personal accomplishment, hold a book in your hand, or some other driving force? Why is it important to publish?
- When will you be happy as an author? NY Times Bestseller list? 5,000 copies sold? Your book on the shelf in the local library? What defines success to you?
- Who are you writing for? Yourself? A small group of like-minded people? Intellectuals? Mass-market thriller readers? Your family and friends? Other writers or literary enthusiasts?
- What are you willing to do to make your book successful? Extreme rewrites to get almost 200,000 words to 80,000-90,000? Commit to spending hours of valuable writing time building a social network platform instead of writing novels? Attend professional development meetings? Network with other publishing influencers and pundits? Stand in a mall for five hours a week at a cart with your book on it? Sit at a table in a book store every Saturday and talk to people as they come by? Drive to stores with your books in the trunk?
- How much control do you want to have over your books? How to do feel about changing what you think is the story to what an editor says will sell? Is it really art or business to you?
Something else to remember is that these answers aren’t set in stone; they can change as you and your experience as an author changes. You can even have a different business plan for each work you write. But have a plan.
What are your thoughts? What kinds of things do you consider when you look at something you’ve written?
This week’s blog is an interview with debut author Adrienne Monson whose book Dissension, Book 1 in The Blood Inheritance Trilogy, was published by Jolly Fish Press on Feb. 23, 2013. It’s available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine bookstores.
Okay, Adrienne, let’s start with the tough questions. If you knew you were going to be stranded on a tropical island a la Survivor, which five books would you sneak in your backpack and which five essentials would you kick out to bring them?
This is a tough one, because I’d want to take five different series with me, not just five books. So after thoughtful consideration, I guess I’d go with the following:
- Ender’s Shadow, by Orson Scott Card
- Ransom, by Julie Garwood
- Pale Demon, by Kim Harrison
- The China Bride, by Mary Jo Putney
- Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan
As for essentials I’d replace them with, that’s also tough because it depends on what you consider essentials. So here’s what I consider essentials I could live without in order to enjoy a great book:
- Makeup (Who cares if you’re stranded on an island anyway, right?)
- Floss (I’m sure I can figure out a way to make leaves into string or something.)
- Hair accessories (As long as I have a brush, I don’t need anything else.)
- Phone (I doubt I’ll get reception anyway)
- Extra shirts (I’ll just wash the one I’m wearing.)
Yeah, make-up would be the first thing to go for me, too. It’s a great day when I don’t have to put mascara on! Also, thanks for recommendations; there are a couple of books on your list I haven’t read yet that must be awesome. Now if I could only get stranded somewhere with books and chocolate and no cell phone…
With all the many hats you wear—Mom and wife being just two of them—how do you find the time to write?
Don’t remind me! It’s definitely something you have to MAKE time for. If you’re waiting for free time to fall into your lap, it won’t. But I utilize sleeping time. My kids have an early bed time, so I do most of my work then. I also have a fabulous husband that’s more than willing to take the kids out for an hour or two while I’m trying to meet deadlines. But mostly, I just stay up later than the rest of my family to write. Yes, I lose sleep and am looking forward to the day when my youngest will go to school, but I make it work. 🙂
I’m a night owl, too. Do you work on one writing project at a time or do you have several irons in the fire?
I try (try!) to stay focused on the one that needs to be turned into the publisher next, but if I get ideas for my next WIP, I will definitely take the time to write notes on that novel so I don’t forget.
Gotta say vampires, here, Lehua! But I am biased. 😉 This question is ironic to me because I am a fun, upbeat kind of woman. I am good at thinking positively and don’t really like watching gory movies. However, I obviously have a dark side that emerges when I’m writing. If you’ve read my short stories on my website, you would think I’m seriously twisted. And, I guess I am – my darkness just comes out in an artistic way. As far as how I tap into that, I don’t really. It just rises to the surface as I write. Sometimes, I even disturb myself to the point that I need to watch a comedy after I’ve written a particularly dark scene. (Don’t worry readers, I’m not graphic in my writing or anything, but in my head, I see all the gory details.)
Reminds me of a story I once read about a man who made gruesome art, but was kind. Villagers complained about his art, so he starting making cherubs and became really mean. Maybe we’re letting our inner demons out through our books!
Dissension, Book 1 of the Blood Inheritance Trilogy, was published Feb. 23, 2013. Books 2 and 3 are titled Defiance and Deliverance. What can we look forward to in book 2?
I really don’t want to give much away. I will tell you that both Leisha and Samantha experience a little bit of romance and that they figure out where the prophecy child is. There’s still plenty of action scenes that I hope will keep you turning the pages. That’s all I will give. The rest, you must find out yourself. 🙂
Arrgh! And for me patience is not a virtue! Sure you won’t take a bribe? No? You’re really going to make me wait for book 2? Sigh.
Thanks for stopping by, Adrienne. Now get back to writing!
Adrienne Monson, winner of the 2009 Oquirrh’s Writer’s Contest and the Utah RWA’s Great Beginnings, has immersed herself in different kinds of fiction since a young age. She lives in Utah with her husband and two kids, whom she loves with all her heart. She loves Zumba, kickboxing, and weightlifting. She also enjoys yummy foods, so she won’t look like a workout guru.
Keep up to date with Adrienne’s events and writing:
To read my review of Dissension, click here.
Today I’m part of a blog hop, officially known as The Next Big Thing. Many thanks to Elsie Park for inviting me to hop in after her. You can check out her website here. Her debut book is called Shadows of Valor and will be available everywhere July 27, 2013! It is going to be great! Can’t wait.
If you’ve never heard of a blog hop, it’s a bit like a game of tag. Writers post about their works and link to other authors ahead and behind them in the chain. So, without further ado–
What is the working title of your next book?
One Shark, No Swim, Book 2 in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It’s currently in editorial review at Jolly Fish Press and will come out late summer/fall 2013. It follows One Boy, No Water.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The genesis for the series was a scene from Legends of Hawaii that I saw when I was seven years old. In the film a young Hawaiian boy’s shirt is ripped off to reveal gaping shark’s jaws where his back should be—it’s the kind of image that tends to stick with you if you have an overactive imagination.
What genre does your book fall under?
It straddles the line between Middle Grade and Young Adult. Technically, it’s fantasy, but it’s set in modern, every day Hawai’i. Supernatural things happen, but it’s all rather matter of fact. While Zader and his friends are twelve in One Shark, No Swim, the themes developed in the series are universal. It’s PG in content and language, making it appropriate for MG readers, but it wasn’t written specifically for an MG/YA audience. It’s an adventure series that appeals to adults, too, particularly if they’ve lived in Hawai’i.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Jackie Chan. Uncle Kahana, Zader, ‘Ilima, Jay, Char Siu—it doesn’t matter which character; the answer to this question is always Jackie Chan. (Call me!)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Adopted twelve year old suspects there’s more to his birth family than he ever dreamed and the truth changes everything.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Niuhi Shark Saga is published by Jolly Fish Press.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About six weeks split over nine months. Bursts of writing punctuated by life and lots of dust gathering.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
In book 2, Zader discovers a way he can take a shower without blistering, he meets both his biological parents (although he doesn’t know it), learns Filipino Kali-style knife fighting from a master, and Uncle Kahana and ‘Ilima don’t see eye to eye on what to tell Zader, Jay, and Char Siu about what’s really going on. And niuhi sharks! Lots of sharks.
And that’s my Next Big Thing! Now here are the fabulous authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing! They will be posting on 1/30/2013. Enjoy!
Great authors who’ve already posted their Next Big Thing that you shouldn’t miss!
Death makes great copy, especially combined with the old saw that technology is sweeping out the old to ring in the new. But as the latest research shows, I think the sales relationship between paper books and virtual ones is more entwined than most realize. When brick and mortar bookstores close, total book sales decline. Not just book books. All books.
In case you missed previous blogs, you should know I’m an eBook junkie. I read too many too fast for me to justify the higher costs and shelf space required for reading mostly paper books. I love the instant gratification that comes from downloading a book in less than a minute at 2 am. I like that I can make the font big so I can read without my glasses, and if I fall asleep reading a 1200 page book, it doesn’t break my nose. A whole library fits in my purse. Like Clint Eastwood and his guns, you will get my eBooks when you can pry them out of my cold, dead hands.
But here’s the dirty secret about eBooks and me that most people don’t know. Most eBooks I buy get bought because I first handled that title in a store.
Shocking, but true. I know all about goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, book trailers, writers’ blogs, book reviews, and all the other ways authors and publishers promote their books, but when it comes to loosening the purse strings and freeing the credit card, holding the physical book trumps them all, especially if I haven’t read the author before. Not surprisingly, authors I like get an automatic eBook pass, as do books recommended by a handful of people, but if the author is new to me, unless the eBook’s purchase price is around the cost of a large Diet Coke, I’m not going to buy it without holding it first.
I’m not alone. I’m certain there are other mostly eBook buyers like me who stalk the book aisles of Costco, WalMart, Target, Barnes & Noble, and the local grocery store, manhandling the books and creating clandestine to read lists of titles that eventually get purchased and downloaded at two in the morning when I’m ready for the next book. Holding, smelling, reading the blurb, flipping through the pages—if I pick a printed book up, there’s a very good chance I’ll eventually buy the eBook version, no matter who wrote it. It’s the same principle restaurants use when they bring a dessert tray–if you see what you’re getting you’re far more likely to buy. No matter how sublime the waiter says the crème brûlée is, if you’ve never had crème brûlée before, sight unseen, you’re going to stick with the chocolate cake.
For an eBook seller, people like me inspired handsprings. But if you’re paying retail rent for me to browse and buy somewhere else, I seriously suck.
Now before you get all uppity and stand on a soapbox and tell me I’m the reason the bell tolls on bookstores, just remember I’m a traditionally published MG/YA author; I get it. I do. But like most people, I’m lazy, cheap, and self-absorbed, and lecturing me doesn’t change behavior. If it did, I’d be in marathon running shape and have a spotless house. As long as I can hold books in one place and buy them cheaper in another, you’re not going to convince me to only shop online or to buy all my books from a brick and mortar store. In my head, I’m buying the story and experience, not digital zeros and ones or thin slices of a once living tree graffiti’d in ink.
So if bookstores can’t compete with eBook cost savings, higher profit margins, and ease of distribution, but eBook distributors need books on shelves to sell more eBooks, then logically, it’s time to change the financial model into something more synergistic. Change equals opportunity if you can spot the trend in time.
What if like a library, a bookstore only stocked a single printed copy or two of each book—something that a buyer could hold. What if a buyer then bought a code from the store to download an eBook in a format that could be read on any electronic device? And the store’s code was discounted from the eBook’s full online price, incenting the buyer to buy it from the store? What if the code also kicked back a commission to the store, giving it another reason to display a title? Or what if you got free shipping and an extra discount if instead of walking out with a book, it was overnighted to your house? What if books were printed on demand at the bookstore in the time it took to drink a cup of coffee at the in-store café? What if bookstores and eBook distributors realized they needed each other, that they were both in the same reader supported lifeboat, and began working together to patch the leak?
What’re your thoughts?
All right, I confess. In One Boy, No Water, when I first wrote that Zader was allergic to water I didn’t think all the implications through. I was looking for a way to explain all the fiery pain and blisters that appear when water touched his skin that Liz, his adoptive mother, would buy and Uncle Kahana, who suspects the real reason, could say. An allergy excuse popped into my head. It was simple, sort of believable, and most people have enough experience with allergies not to wonder about it too much.
The first problems were easy to solve. Bathing? Zader uses oil and a raw sugar scrub to remove dirt and dead skin like the ancient Romans and Greeks did, although they used sand or salt instead of sugar. Rain? Carry an umbrella. Beach? Water-proof suit. Drinking? Once water’s past his lips, I decided, there’s no real problem, just some tingling, plus anything like juice or soda that’s not pure water is fine, just gotta watch out for condensation on the outside of a glass.
It’s good to be the king and make all the rules.
But after One Boy, No Water hit the bookstands, two things happened. First, I discovered that there really were people in the world who suffered from Zader’s condition. (The allergy one, not his real one, of course. If there are people in the world with his real problem, life is far more interesting and complicated than even I imagined and that’s saying a lot.)
Secondly, a waaaay too precocious child who lives in our neighborhood named Tate (Tater to his friends) read the book—and liked it. A lot. Tater tends to think deep thoughts about things that capture his imagination, and he likes to bounce his ideas off adults. His mind fascinates me; there’s a pretty rigid framework of how the world should work—like most kids his age, fairness is a big thing with him—from which he launches breathtaking flights of fantasy blended with reality. He makes connections between things that most never consider, like his opinion that scientists need to create a vaccine for bird flu. For birds. That way the birds won’t get sick with a flu that could mutate into something that destroys the human race.
When you meet a young mind like this, you have to be careful not to stifling creative thought by bombarding it with too many adult concepts. You have to consider the real question. His solution to bird flu is less about science and more about a fear of something out of his control that destroys the human race, i.e. his family. The best response isn’t a technical explanation of all the reasons his idea is doomed to fail, but rather questions that eventually lead him to better understand and cope with his underlying fear.
As I said, his friends call him Tater.
Tater wandered over one afternoon to ask me a profoundly serious question: how was Zader baptized? Did I mention in addition to precocious he’s earnestly religious? With him, religion is kinda like remarking chocolate tastes good and hearing his “Well, duh,” response. Tater liked Zader, and his faith taught that baptism is essential, and not by a sprinkle, but by full immersion. Tater was concerned.
And I was a little trapped. You see, I feel very strongly that a person’s belief system, religious or not, must always be respected, and like Horton the elephant said, a person’s a person no matter how small.
Now I could have spent all day explaining to Tater the difference between fiction and reality, discussed religion as allegory or relative truth, or even said something flippant like they’d coated Zader in Crisco before baptizing him so the water didn’t touch his skin. But Tater sincerely wanted to know; he really cared about the answer.
For once, my brain engaged before my mouth and instead of saying all the knee-jerk adult things that popped into my head, I just smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and said I’d have to get back to him on that. Satisfied for the moment, he’d skipped back to his house, but I knew Tater wouldn’t forget. I’d have to come up with an answer.
Eventually I did what I usually do when I’ve thought and thought about something and haven’t a clue. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night to ask his opinion.
He looked at the clock. “Lehua, it’s three in the morning.”
“Seriously. This is what keeps you up all night?”
“Not all nights.”
He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. “Tater knows Zader’s fictional, right?”
“I think so. But there are people out there who can’t have water touch their skin. It’s not entirely hypothetical.”
“Tater and his questions,” he muttered. “Instead of encouraging him to read, somebody ought to hide his books and teach him to shoot baskets.” He thought for a moment. “Crisco,” he said.
“Thought of it.”
“It doesn’t feel right.”
He sighed. “Is this your question or Tater’s?”
I just looked at him.
He shook his head and stared at the ceiling. “Okay, what if the water isn’t the important thing in a baptism? Clean water, dirty water, salt water, fresh water—none of that seems to matter. It’s the immersion that seems most important in Tater’s religion. So if Zader was a member of Tater’s church, they’d fill a deep enough container with some kind of liquid he could tolerate and dunk him that way.”
“Would other the members accept it, though?”
“You’re asking me if a fictitious group of religious people would consider a theoretical baptism by immersion in a vat of melted chocolate kosher for a character in a book who’s allergic to water?”
He reached over and flicked off the light. “Yes,” he said, “they would. God’s grace and all that jazz. I’m going back to sleep. In the morning I’m hunting Tater down before school and teaching him how to throw a baseball.”
Olive oil, Kool-Aid, ice tea, guava juice—it makes as much sense as water, I guess. On a whim I went back to my computer and googled ‘can’t be baptized by immersion due to water allergy.’ To my utter amazement, I found several pontifications posts about it, most saying it was proof that God either didn’t exist, was a closet sadist, or played favorites—fill in your own anti-Christian baptism slogan here. A few mentioned divine grace making up what a willing spirit wanted, but weak flesh could not endure, citing references in the Bible where God seemed to make exceptions to some of His rules. The things insomniacs learn at four in the morning.
I talked it over with Tater, and he decided that God gave Zader his water allergy because he was special, so special he didn’t need baptism. Told you this kid was a deep thinker.
Personally, I was rooting for the vat of gooey chocolate, but what can you do? It’s Tater’s belief system after all.
Once a publisher makes the sign of the cross over your work, blessing it and pronouncing it fit for public consumption, a lot of people want to know about your writing process. It’s kinda like being the fat kid who suddenly loses a lot of weight; everybody wants to know how you did it, especially if all you ate were Cheetos and watermelon seeds and your cardio program consisted of dancing naked in the moonlight to a Johnny Cash soundtrack.
Wow. Think I just gave myself a nightmare!
Plotters want to read about how you outlined every nuance; pantsters want to hear how the story grew organically into tightly woven plot. Everybody’s looking for validation or insider tips, the secret decoder ring to success.
For me, the truth is really more mundane. I need a couple of things: a deadline and a target audience. Gallons of icy Diet Coke, bowls of almonds, grapes, or bits of cheese, a lock on my office door, and an excuse to avoid housework all help, but plotters and pansters aside, it’s all about the ability to sit down and work something through to the end.
For short pieces like articles, I keep an idea list on an electronic sticky note on my computer desktop. These are pure pantster exercises where I just think about the topic, consider the audience, and write. Most times they’re completed in one sitting, usually after couple of false starts until it suddenly clicks and comes together.
For bigger projects like novels, it’s all about the pre-production. Since One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga is set in Hawaii, several thousands of miles away from my current high desert home, I start by reading everything I can about Hawaiian history and culture, mostly dry historical and cultural tomes, the kinds of things I avoided like the plague when I was in school. Though the internet I listen to Hawaiian radio stations as I clean house to brush up on my Pidgin and read the Honolulu Star Advertiser to get an idea of current events. I also watch a lot of documentaries about sharks and try to keep up with some of the cutting edge research. I constantly read a lot of fiction—the great, the so-so, and the truly terrible regardless of genre. It all goes into my bubbling stew of a brain where my sub-conscious churns it all over and over, waiting to get the fermentation just right.
Meanwhile I try to be a good plotter and outline the novel at a very high level, usually using Scrivener’s corkboards. I may bang out a couple of chapters, but no real progress is made until like a circling shark the deadline bares its teeth and grins. I start to feel its breath on my neck—if sharks had breath—and see the dorsal fin slip under the water for the kill. I start to think less about the story and more about the audience. What do they expect? What do they want to have happen? How can I delight and change their expectations? Somewhere in my head the theme to Indiana Jones starts playing. That’s when I clear the decks, stop reading, get ahead on all the little writing projects, stock the fridge for the kids, and check the family calendar to be sure I can lock myself away for the next few weeks and write.
And I do, sometimes for twenty or more hours at a time. It helps that I’m an insomniac. It double helps that my family is pretty self-sufficient, at least in the short-run. Typically it’s a marathon writing session followed by a break of a day or so to recover and ice the tendonitis from typing so much. I’m also guilty of the cardinal sin of editing while I write, so a net day of 5,000 words was probably more like 9,000.
Like a classical plotter I know where the story needs to go, but how it gets there is always a surprise to me. I even work backwards sometimes from one plot point to another, so I never have a writer’s block excuse for not writing, just pure laziness or carpool duty. Or bruised elbows from my desktop. Thank goodness it’s cooling off enough for fuzzy long sleeves!
I’m more pantster than I like to admit, but it’s pretty apparent when you consider the lack of detail in my outlines. For example, my outline for Chapter 1 in book two simply says Kalei finds out about Zader. Not a lot to go on unless you can peek inside my head. (I don’t recommend it.)
A big writing day usually starts in the shower as I figure out how the next plot point is going to develop. You don’t wanna see my water bill. I take a lot of long showers. Life would be easier if I could connect to my inner muse by cleaning house or exercising, but apparently she’s a water muse. Tough when you live in a desert.
Plotter-ish outlines give me a skeleton, off-the-cuff pantster writing allows me to dress the body in ways that keep me engaged and the material fresh, deadlines give me a reason to sit and finish, and the target audience reminds me who I’m writing for, which also keeps the inmates from taking over the asylum. My writing process works for me, but like a diet of watermelon seeds and caffeine, it’s not for everyone. I can’t even recommend it!
Today’s post is an interview with Corey Egbert, illustrator for One Boy, No Water. Corey was gracious enough drop by to answer a few questions.
Did you always want to be an illustrator?
No. When I was 6 years old, I wanted to be a scientist/nature photographer. Then when I was about 9, I wanted to be a Lego master builder. Even now I secretly wish I could be a travel show host. But I knew I loved to draw since before I can remember, and I’ve always loved books. So I figured illustration would be a perfect job because it is a combination of both of those.
What’s your preferred medium? Would you rather sketch on paper or on a computer?
I wish I was patient enough to do all my work on paper. If I did though, I would have to erase far too much and it would take forever!
I always start out with a pencil drawing in my sketchbook and then I scan it into the computer. The computer lets me do so much in a short amount of time, and if I want to change something, I can do it really easily without having to start over. But even though it’s on the computer, it’s still drawing. I still have to know all the components of art like scale, value, line, perspective, etc. The computer is just a tool.
One Boy, No Water is the first book you’ve illustrated. How is book illustration different from some of the other projects you’ve worked on?
Book illustration is different than doing other art because you have to create images based on someone else’s ideas instead of your own. The author created the characters, objects and world, and you have to draw them to be true to the story. I had to do a lot of research, ask a lot of questions, and sometimes revise my drawings multiple times to get them right. It really helped me grow as an artist because it pushed me to take my artwork farther than I would have on my own.
Which part of the process did you enjoy the most?
I really loved the challenge of taking characters that are only described in words and turning them into something that you can look at. The kids were very fun to draw because they each have different personalities. I enjoyed working on Zader because I felt like I could relate to him, especially since he is an artist too.
Which illustration from One Boy, No Water is your favorite?
I would have to say the one with Zader and Dream Girl and the castle. It was the hardest one for me to do. I worked on it forever and I really wasn’t pleased with what I was coming up with. I dreaded working on it and actually saved it for the night before my deadline! I ended up throwing my first version away and completely starting over. I am really pleased with how it eventually turned out. Castles have always been one of my favorite things to draw.
Now for the really important questions: Crayons or markers?
Haha. When I was a kid I thought crayons were for babies so I used markers. I like the deep, even colors and finer lines you get with markers. Crayons are too hard to control.
Whenever I am asked this, I always say that I like all colors because I am an artist. I just can’t decide.
Who are some of the illustrators you admire?
Maurice Sendak who created Where the Wild Things Are is one of my very favorites and possibly the most influential children’s book illustrator ever. I also used to try to copy the style of Eyvind Earle who did the background art for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Pauline Baynes, who illustrated the original editions of The Chronicles of Narnia was a big influence, too. I also love Glen Keane, Richard Scarry, Edward Gorey, Mary Blair, Kali Ciesemier, Chris Van Allsburg, Paul O. Zelinsky and Carson Ellis, to just name a few.
When you were eleven did you have a favorite cartoon or tv show?
I really liked the show Recess. I love how the playground was a microcosmic empire ruled by kids. It was full of wars, politics, economics… everything, just on a kid scale. I’m still waiting for that show to come out in a DVD collection.
What’s your favorite middle grade book?
There are too many to pick just one! I love Narnia, Harry Potter, the Prydain books, Tuck Everlasting, My Side of the Mountain, The Phantom Tollbooth, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, The Little Prince… and more. I still read middle grade books, and I can’t wait until my son is old enough so I can read my favorites to him!
Any words of wisdom for burgeoning illustrators who are considering illustration as a career?
Doodle every day! Keep a sketchbook. Learn the fundamentals of art like shape, color, line, value, balance, rhythm, etc. Learn to draw the human figure. Draw your friends and family! Invent your own characters and draw them doing different things. Try to tell a story with your drawings. Observe the world around you. And keep challenging yourself!
Thanks for stopping by, Corey! One Boy, No Water is available in hardback, trade paperback, and ebook on September 29, 2012 wherever books are sold.
Follow Cory on his blog: http://stevencoreyart.blogspot.com/
With the launch party for One Boy, No Water just ten days away, I’ve been doing some publicity interviews. (I know!) One of the questions that keeps popping up is about the genesis of the story. People want to know which Hawaiian myth or legend it comes from and if it’s a myth or a legend. Here’s the real scoop.
Those that parse such distinctions define a legend as a story about actual events or people that sometimes include imaginative elements, or as I like to think of them, the stuff that makes the story good. Myths are defined as stories that are considered completely imaginary that attempt to explain the natural world through symbolism. Personally, I think it’s all a matter of cultural bias. One person’s myth is another’s legend. It all depends on world-view. Out of respect, I tend to call all these kinds of stories legends.
With One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga, there’s been some confusion, especially in the earliest press releases. I don’t think Jolly Fish Press, the publisher, got it initially. There isn’t a Niuhi shark legend in traditional Hawaiian literature, but Hawaiian culture, traditions, and legends do play an important role in the series.
Most cultures have stories about shape-shifters. Throughout the Pacific there are lots of stories about gods and demi-gods who could change form, including human to shark. Niuhi is the Hawaiian word for “shark large enough to eat a human” which I used to describe beings who are really sharks that are self-aware in their role as predators and can appear as people on land. In my imagination I created a backstory where at one point they lived side-by-side with ancient Hawaiians who knew and accepted what they were. After western contact and the fall of the kapu system, the Niuhi moved away and into hiding. In my books only a few people remember the stories and fewer believe, only the ones with ancestral family ties to Niuhi.
To be clear, there is a Hawaiian legend about a boy named Nanaue who is raised as a human but can turn into a shark. Nanaue eats unsuspecting villagers until they unmask and banish him. There are other Hawaiian legends about humans that can turn into sharks that help fishermen and those lost at sea, and even legends about deified ancestors appearing as sharks and protecting family members, all of which influenced the series, but do not define its story arc. The series is not a retelling of Nanaue. Promise.
Where I think the confusion crept in was when I told JFP that Uncle Kahana, the mentor character, would also bring in other Hawaiian legends into storyline, allowing me to share some Hawaiian culture and lore with the rest of the world. I’m talking about Menehunes, ghosts, and other supernatural beings. I think that got twisted a little to imply that the story itself is from a Hawaiian legend.
While it’s being marketed as middle grade and book one is appropriate for that age group, in my mind the whole series is more young adult coming of age and is about eventually choosing to define yourself and how you want to live your life despite what others want you to do. Unknown to Zader is his true nature and the reason he’s been hidden among Uncle Kahana’s family. In One Boy, No Water he gets some strong hints that things are not what he thought they were. After leaving him alone for 12 years, in book 2, his biological family begins to interact with him and more of his true nature rises to the surface. Above all the mystery is a more mundane story about a kid who doesn’t fit in and what choices he and his friends make as they grow up in modern Hawaii.
One Boy, No Water is at its heart a Hawaiian story and like most Hawaiian stories is full of hidden meanings called kaona. Nothing is what it appears to be on the surface. Even Zader’s Hawaiian name is a clue: Kaona-kai, a hidden or concealed sea. It’s my hope that the series is enjoyed by both kinds of readers: the careful readers who search for clues and the deeper kaona and those who would rather just enjoy the ride, taking the saga along the surface all the way to the beach.
Either way, it’s going to be a wild ride!
Today’s blog is courtesy of Jennifer Griffith, author of Big in Japan and member of the Jolly Fish Press ‘ohana. Her newest novel is a fish out of water story about a plus-sized Texan who goes to Japan on a quick business trip, but ends up living in a sumo stable fighting for his life and chasing after the girl of his dreams. At turns sweet, thrilling, and always hilarious, it’s a great read.
Thank you, Lehua, for allowing me to guest blog today. It’s an honor.
My latest novel, Big in Japan, has been out for just over a month now, and it’s amazing to see the reactions to it. The funniest one might be, “How the heck did you write that?”
Maybe they’re asking how a short, mom-type person wrote from the perspective of a … well, a giant. Who’s a 24 year-old man. That’s a valid question. I guess I channeled my inner sumo wrestler.
It’s been a lot of years since I lived in Japan. Like, almost 20. I wanted Big in Japan to be as authentic as possible—as much of a virtual trip to Tokyo as I could muster with the little details of sights and smells and the kitchy things that are Japan. Unfortunately, I’ve given birth five times since then, which is a veritable mind-wipe each time. So the most legitimate meaning of that question should actually be, “How did you write that and remember all that stuff?”
To which I reply, duh! In Japan you take your camera with you everywhere and you photodocument every single aspect of your day.
Cases in point: I have pictures of my bathtub; of my lunch of sliced cucumbers and barbecued squid and a pile of Kewpie mayonnaise; of mugi (wheat bran) muffins boiling over in my toaster-oven sized oven; of my clothes drying on the line; of myself going off a jump on my hot pink mountain bike wearing the kind of helmet only the mentally challenged Japanese people (and the American girls) wear; of my feet turned green and blue from the dyed leather in my blue oxford shoes after walking through the ankle-deep water after the August typhoon in Tokyo. I have pictures I took in the grocery store of bags of tiny round mochi balls in pink and green and white and of the narrowest house I’ve ever seen—just barely wider than my armspan from fingertip to fingertip.
But as a writer, the pics are not my only “external hard drive” source to remember details about beautiful Japan. I’ll be forever grateful I kept an almost-daily journal of my experiences.
I’ve got a record of “funny.” I have daily lists of the wacky English-language text on t-shirts, like the one with the tortoise at the top and the caption, “His mustache is so proud of him.” I’ve got stories about someone we lovingly referred to as “underwear man,” and the time I had to eat a stir-fried cricket on a dare. I also kept a record of the high cost of fresh fruit. Like the fact that a single watermelon cost upwards of $100!
Beyond that, when I was writing about Buck’s difficult transition into the Japanese culture, I had my own rocky emotional mess all bleeding out in hot pink pen all over my journal to draw from. And to write Buck’s final settling in, his acceptance of the country after some pretty significant culture shock, I had the feelings of catharsis I’d recorded as well.
Best of all, I’ve also got a whole cast of interesting and amazing people I met while I was there, and the heroine of the story is a conglomerate of the best of the Japanese women I met during my year and a half on the island.
When I first received my assignment to go to Japan, I was scared spitless. Then I told my grandpa, and he about jumped out of his skin. He’d lived there with my grandma and their six-or-so kids in the 1950s. He insisted I drive the half hour to his house because he was pulling out his slides. There were hundreds of pictures of the forests of Matsushima and the gardens at Nikko, and the ocean and houses and smiling people. His photodocumentation went great lengths toward calming my fears, and his love for Japan oozed its way into my heart, where it has lodged ever since.
I hope that love oozes into the hearts of the readers of Big in Japan.
Jennifer Griffith lives in Arizona with her husband and five kids. She lived in Japan for a year and a half during college and at 5’1” she is far too short to ever consider sumo as a career. This is her fourth published novel. Big in Japan is available as a hardback and ebook nationwide at purveyors of fine books such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click here to see the book trailer. Trust me, you wanna see it.
Follow Jennifer’s adventures in writing at:
- Website: http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com/
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorJenniferGriffith
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/GriffithJen
To read my review of Big in Japan, click here.