Tag Archives: Publication

Straight from the Editor: Penny & Jelly!

For the grand finale of our week-long celebration of Maria Gianferrari’s sublime Penny & Jelly, we’ve got a special treat: an interview with Maria’s editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cynthia Platt. While we are all woof-ing it up for this delightful picture book, Cynthia was the editor who first saw and fell it love with it way back when, and here she shares her wisdom regarding the process of acquiring Maria’s AMAZING book and of guiding it through through preparation until it arrived, this week, to the world. Without further ado, say hello to Cynthia Platt!

What about PENNY & JELLY hooked you–and how did you know you wanted to publish this book?

I’m always saying that I want young, funny, character-driven picture books–and there in my inbox was just that. Also, from the start, I loved the DIY and crafting aspects of the story. And Penny and Jelly’s relationship is so wonderful. I could keep going….

What process did you and Maria follow after the offer had been made and accepted? Anything particularly interesting happen along the way?

After the initial email introductions, we got to work editing with lot of back and forth, sifting through the small details–of which there are always so many of when it comes to picture books. We were also lucky in that Maria lived in Massachusetts at the time so we got to sit down and spend an afternoon together talking about the book and getting acquainted.

What inspires you most about a picture book?

I’ve always been a die-hard reader, and I can easily trace the books that have both meant the most to me and inspired me to love reading even more. Those special books, for me, go back to the picture books I loved as a girl. So, as an editor, it’s a real gift to be able to assist in the creation of a picture book. Part of me always hopes that each picture book that makes its way into the world might be that special one for a young reader.

If you had to use three adjectives to describe PENNY & JELLY, they would be:

Warm, funny, and smart–then again, I’d describe Maria that way, too!

What qualities do you admire most in a writer?

Not to sound like a politician, but that’s a really interesting question to answer–because I think I’d answer differently as an editor and as a reader. As a reader, you just are looking for someone who writes a good book–someone whose worlds and characters you find engaging. As an editor, though, the writer isn’t some distant figure. It’s someone with whom you not only work closely, but with whom you work with on something near and dear to their hearts. So, you hope to work with writers who not only inspire you creatively, but also with whom you can relate on some level.

As a book is launched, what do you most hope will happen for it?

That someone picks it up and reads it. That lots and lots of someones do. And not only that they read it, but that they love it and find something in it that speaks to them.

Do you have a favorite book or a favorite quote or both? 🙂

Without a moment’s hesitation: Middlemarch. I love many books, but this one has become my bedrock.

What surprised you about publishing when you first got into this work?

As a sometimes overly-passionate reader who grew up pre-internet, it wasn’t always been easy to find people who shared that level of enthusiasm. Then I went into publishing and found this rich world of book people. It was a “these are my people” kind of experience.

What part of PENNY & JELLY do you love most (if you HAD to pick just one moment in the beautiful book)?

Well, if I HAVE to pick one, I love the moment when Penny begins to despair that she really doesn’t have anything she’s truly good at, and that she and Jelly solve the problem together–and that what she’s best at is being Jelly’s friend. Every time I get to the end of the book when they’ve been declared “Best Friends,” I smile. And believe me, I’ve read the book a lot of times at this point!

Thanks for sharing your ideas, wisdom, and all your love for Penny & Jelly with us! And readers, remember that by leaving a comment below, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of the book and also some serious swag from Maria. To order your copy of the book today, visit http://www.pennyandjelly.com. Happy Reading!!!

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What Seeds Do We Plant?

As writers, we love to see stuff blossom. Anything, really.

Flowers? Yes! We want to see those colors, see those shapes, see that–aah, wow, yes!–stunning growth from what was once a tiny seed.

Kids? Yes! We want to see our kids–whether those we parent, those we teach, or those for whom we write–grow into confident, bold, kind, and wise human beings.

Stories? Yes! We want to see the characters about whom we care so deeply, the plots into which we pour our minds, and the conflicts through which we split open our hearts all grow, develop, and yield something beautiful.

And because we are writers, we know that stories need endings. We know that planting a seed–starting something off–can be satisfying in its own way, but were we to always stop at the Starts, we’d feel somehow aloof, adrift, maybe even…angry. (For more on anger, read Susan Vaught’s remarkable post on the emotion here.)

But as writers, our desire for strong finishes, redeeming denouements, blossoming finales leaves us, well, kind of with our hands tied when it comes to one issue: publication. We can create and craft and revise and submit to our heart’s delight, but we have no control over the endings. None.

And if you’re anything like me, this kind of hurts to admit. It feels powerless, scary, and confusing.

So when I found a line from Robert Louis Stevenson that spoke directly to that fear, I wrote that line in my journal, posted it on the wall by my desk in the classroom where I teach 7th grade, put it on a sticky note inside my wallet, texted my friends with the quote, and pretty much repeated it to anyone I met. Even grocery store cashiers.

Stevenson wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

About five years ago, my wife, Jennifer and I decided that we were going to give away most of what we owned, and bring our two-year old son abroad to live in England for three years. She would work on her PhD, and I would be a stay-at-home dad and write. I thought that some of the many seeds I’d planted as a writer would blossom at some point during our three-year excursion, helping us to have a little  more income other than the student loan on which we were going to live.

And I planted a lot of seeds during those three years. I wrote drafts of four middle grade novels. I wrote drafts of 50 picture book manuscripts. I wrote proposal packages for three non-fiction books. I wrote two drafts of literary fiction-esque novels. I wrote a slew of poems.

And then I revised many of these projects, trashed many of them, rewrote many of them.

Hands in dirt! Planting seeds! Going deep!

Dirt in fingernails! Still planting!

And I woke up each morning with that magical thought bubble: Hey, you know, well, yeah…THIS COULD BE THE DAY. 

But it never was. And as we watched electric bills pile up, “Rent Due” notices gather, and as we marked on the calendar when each student loan installment was going to come–itching for that student loan disbursement day with hopeful fear–another thought bubble began to form: Maybe this isn’t going to work. Maybe this was crazy.

And so I looked for a “real” job while my son was in preschool. I applied to janitorial jobs, substitute teaching jobs, grocery store clerk jobs, secretarial jobs.

Hey, more dirt! Digging! Fingernails dirty with job applications! Yeah!

But none of those job applications yielded, well, JOBS. In fact, none of those seeds even yielded an interview.

This went on for a long time, and eventually the only job I could find was to deliver newspapers. So I delivered newspapers. And I was a little angry about it some mornings. (Again, thank you Susan Vaught for your incredible post!) And some mornings I managed to listen to music and see the bright side of it: it was teaching me to wait, to struggle, to hope, to be looked at like I was insane by the tweens delivering newspapers, to appreciate my wife and son who did the route with me some days, hleping me feel like I really wasn’t a complete failure as a father and a writer.

To shorten what may already be becoming a belabored story: nothing happened. All three of those England years yielded no blossoms that would help us make rent, no successes to which we could write home about. And we flew back home humbled, yes, but also more together as a family. More aware of the actual journey of a writer. More ‘okay’ with failure. And more able to be honest about those emotions inside that aren’t always happy and glad and smiley (yup: again, a nod of gratitude to Susan!).

Now, looking back, those three years in England sometimes take on a resplendent glow. When books are under contract and coming out, it feels easier to look back at those three years and say, See! They were all worth it, all leading up to this point! The planting MATTERED! Dirty fingernails, huzzah!

But that would be a mistake. More than a mistake, I think it might be downright wrong–the absolute opposite of what Stevenson meant by his quote. I don’t think the planting is worth it ONLY if / because it reaps a harvest. Instead, the planting is worht it because that’s what good writing and good living are all about.

We cannot control outcomes. We cannot control blossoms and harvests. And if we see seed-planting as worthwhile only because a harvest is reaped, then I think the point of seed-planting is lost. If I go back to those years in England and reconnect with what mattered there, I would see that it was the turning on of the computer after another rejection. It was the delivery of the morning paper after another late bill. It was the relationships that formed between my wife and I, and with our son.

Those were the seeds.

And if a harvest or a blossom ever comes, in a weird way, it carries with it the danger of losing touch with seed-planting, and focusing more on the harvest. If I’m being honest? Right now, that’s my struggle. I need help from friends to go back to the turning on of the computer–to WRITE, not to CHECK on stuff. To plant seeds, not to see what kind of harvest might be reap-able.

If I don’t end each day with dirty fingernails, then am I really living? Am I really writing, after all?

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