It’s such a pleasure to share critique partner Julie Rowan-Zoch’s debut picture book as author/illustrator! What fun to see this story develop over time, and, as the die-hard nonfiction person in our local critique group, so cool to see the nonfiction element grow stronger and even inspire back matter! Thank you, Julie, for sharing how this came to be!
Also…thanks to Julie for offering a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win your very own copy of I’M A HARE, SO THERE!
Congratulations to Annie Lynn! You’ve won A PLAN FOR THE PEOPLE: NELSON MANDELA’S HOPE FOR HIS NATION by Lindsey McDivitt.
“BACK MATTER? How a Character-Driven Picture Book Became Informational Fiction,” by Julie Rowan-Zoch
I had drawn a jackrabbit for Susanna Hill’s first (and I believe only) illustration contest via her blog a number of years ago. I continued to draw the character and it had caught my agent’s eye and she asked, “What’s his story?” I already had a strong feeling for his personality so I basically sent him on a walk in his natural environment, and not knowing enough, off I went to do some research.
I knew Jack would not be happy about being mistaken for a rabbit despite the rabbit in his name. This held the window wide open for me to play with my favorite ingredient, humor. So there I was, trying hard to be funny and not noticing I was also sharing a lot of facts! And what would it matter, I was only writing character-driven fiction! I kept the characters moving, page after page, I had a hook, a bit of conflict, and a good old fashioned predator protagonist! The ending was good – and unexpected – but my agent suggested maybe I don’t need to have the main character meet his demise in a picture book! It was actually rather funny, but with my agent’s prodding, and the help of my critique partners, I think the new ending is much funnier! Aaaand I used another fact to literally pack a punch!
With everyone happy, the manuscript went out on sub to the editor who had already hired me to illustrate LOUIS, and she liked it but wanted to know if I would be willing to add back matter. BACK MATTER? For a fiction picture book? I said yes, but really had never thought I would be adding facts for fact’s sake! So I ignored that bit for a while, and started work on a more detailed dummy instead. It was my editor who made the suggestion to add a few more similar-but-not-the-same animals, or maybe even something in the same vein but more abstract, like dawn and dusk. Ah, brilliant! I do love the collaborative process!
But I still needed back matter. All I knew was that I wanted to keep it visual, because I just couldn’t see this story could be considered non-fiction. (Not that I don’t like non-fiction – it’s pretty much all the adult in me reads!) The team at HMH nudged me towards adding a few details about similar-but-not-the-same animals, just a sentence or two, and I suppose it was the permission to keep the text concise that drew me back in – must be an affinity for picture book writers in general! I added the search-and-find just to fill a second page with visuals, and even tried to add a map – but the page got cramped. So hopefully taking it out has left room for readers to look for one! (Note to self: must write a story that has maps. Love maps!)
Overall my hope is that readers of the book feel as encouraged as I was in the earlier part of the process to go beyond the handful of facts presented and explore things they would like to know about the desert, the animals, or just animals that are often mistaken because of their similarities. So there!
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of I’M A HARE, SO THERE! (US addresses only, please)