It's not very often I get a chance to interview a children's author, especially from a publisher I absolutely love. Welcome, Annette! I CANNOT wait to hear about your newest release coming in 2020.
Annette, tell us a bit about your book:
My debut picture book, tentatively titled, Hooray, It’s Three Kings Day! will be published fall, 2020, with Little Lamb Books.
Three Kings Day is celebrated in many Latin countries around the world on January 6th. Some communities refer to the holiday as Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. In Puerto Rico, the Three Kings visit children while they sleep on January 5th. Children leave grass in a shoe box underneath their bed for the camels to nibble on, then, the Kings place gifts inside. In my book, a little girl living in the states misses her Grandmother in Puerto Rico and the pair bond over the holiday.
I absolutely love this tradition! I've heard a lot about Three Kings Day, but haven't seen many children's book do that topic, so I cannot wait to dive in. Now, some people think writing a children's book is an easy process. But any children's writer knows writing a picture book can be a lot harder than writing any other genre.
What is the hardest part of the writing process/writing this book?
Brevity was my biggest challenge.
For me, 500 words is the sweet spot for a picture book. But I had three items I needed to cover. One, the holiday of Three Kings Day. It’s not widely known in the states so I had to briefly and effectively describe it for the audience without “info dumping.” Two, parallel the story of a young girl missing her far-away Abuela to the Three Kings far-away journey to Christ. Lastly, bring it all together by showing how love can travel across great distances. I gave myself room to write up to 675 words, but hope to end up closer to 600. I’m still in the final editing stages, so the manuscript isn’t quite done yet.
So true. Brevity is the bread and butter of children's writing. Did you have a favorite scene or part you wrote?
I love to tap into the emotions of the adult reader.
In one scene, there is a large celebration with extended family. It’s loud, jovial, everything a family party should be. At one point, Abuela and child sneak off into the snowy night to collect grass for the shoe box. It’s a quiet moment that really tapped into my own memories, where it’s just you and the grandparent. No cousins, aunts, siblings, etc., just the two of you, and you feel overwhelmingly special and loved. I hope it evokes some sort of feeling for the adult reader too.
Absolutely beautiful. I love how you can hear the love and quiet just from the description. Favorite character?
I loved writing Abuela (the grandmother) my Abuela taught me about Three Kings Day. The character is loosely based on her.
I love that!! OK, for our last question: Advice for writers?
I have so much advice! Some of this I was told when I started writing and other things I’ve learned throughout the years.
Have patience. Just like any skill, writing takes years and years of practice. You may write for two years, maybe five, and those stories will never be published. They won’t be very good and they will sit in your drawer. It’s not a waste of time, its practice, its learning the craft! Athletes don’t get drafted into the NBA overnight, they practice hard for years before they get that break!
Several mentors told me, “write what you know.” I’ve written maybe two dozen picture books, on topics ranging from sibling rivalry to talking marshmallows. But this is the only book I’ve written on something that I knew deeply! I was this little girl, born in the states, while much of my family was born in Puerto Rico or still living there. Growing up I enjoyed having traditions that were different from my friends and eating different foods. I think that authenticity showed in my work and it resonated with the publisher.
My last piece of advice is to be resilient in the face of rejection. You will get a mountain of decline letters from agents and editors. The emails may be generic, or very polite with comments, but ultimately, they still feel like a punch in the gut. You’re not alone in this feeling, so take a moment to grieve, then move on. Don’t give up! Have confidence in yourself and keep going.
OK, seriously, writers write all of that down. All of that advice is pure gold. Thank you, Annette, for joining us, and readers, give her a follow below!
For more info on Annette, visit her at www.AnnetteMClayton.com or follow her on twitter at @AnnetteMClayton