Welcome, Tim! Congratulations on your debut picture book, Teeny Tiny Trucks, illustrated by Keith Frawley! I am not surprised that this awesome story was accepted for publication as an app and is already being coupled as a print/app release. What inspired you to get involved with picture book apps?
Thank you, Carrie! I just love technology and this relatively new wave of storytelling on tablets is very exciting. I would never want to replace traditional picture books. But, the numerous enhancements available to ignite young reader’s imaginations with apps are too cool to resist. Just a few years ago, my only option to incorporate music into a book was to have a CD. Now, my songs are integrated right into the app and can be downloaded directly into a smartphone playlist. Love that.
What prompted you to write about trucks?
When I first started writing picture books four years ago, I knew I needed to build up a portfolio of work. I gave myself assignments, like, “Now I’ll try writing my twist on an ABC book” and “Now I’ll write my twist on a Halloween story.” It was a good way to test my hand at tried and true topics and develop my voice. At a local SCBWI event in 2010, Christy Ottaviano discussed the various “truck books” she’d published. Ah ha! I had a new assignment for myself: “Now I’ll write a truck book.”
What was it like to start out by publishing an app before the print version?
Well, from a writer’s standpoint, it wasn’t that different. After the thrill of landing the contract, I basically got on with writing other stories while the publisher found an illustrator and started adapting the manuscript to work in app form. It’s been mostly out of my hands--though in my case, I’ve been involved in the music and narrations and marketing.
Keith Frawley’s illustrations are bright and playful. Were you able to communicate with him during the editing stages? I know you had to handle both print/app edits rather close together. Tell us about the process of editing an app vs. editing a book.
Other than sending a quick little “hi” email once he signed on, I never spoke with Keith until after he’d finished the illustrations. I gave no art directions during his creative process. And that was fine! I was excited to see what an illustrator would do with my manuscript, and I couldn’t be happier. His style works great for print, but is perfect for motion and interactivity, too. And, though I was prepared to handle any edits or changes the publisher might have had for the manuscript, they didn’t change a word. That’s rare, I think. But I wrote Trucks in very tight, simple stanzas (it’s only 239 words) and these days, short and sweet works well for a book/app hybrid.
You have composed some super fun music for Julie Hedlund’s apps and now, your own! You need your own episode of “Behind the Music!” How long have you been involved in music composition?
Oooh. I like that. The year was 1988. I wrote my first song for my high school punk band, Simple Simon. In college, I took up the accordion (I’m not making this up, by the way) and continued writing quirky music. After college, I got into writing musicals. My first was “Henry Noodle and the Radar Blip”, a one-man, sci-fi musical comedy. (Still not making this up.) From there, I moved to New York City and hit rock bottom. Booze, gambling, heroin. (Okay, that’s not true.) Actually, I went to NYU and got an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing. After that, I started writing songs for a kid-friendly folk band called the Hobo Nickels. Writing those songs and having kids of my own finally drew me into writing picture books.
You have some great experiences to share! (I wasn't expecting the booze, gambling, heroin bit...I had this sort of shocked look on my face and the next second I was laughing!) You have such a unique voice in ALL of your writing!
Once it was accepted for publication, how long did this project take? What was the most surprising part of this process? And… were there many differences between the publishing experience of the book vs. the app?
I submitted my app proposal in early December 2012 and got “the call” about a week later. That was fun. In February 2013 I had a signed contract with Little Bahalia Publishing. By July I had proofed final spreads of the book, and in September, I had a hard copy of the book in my hand! The app version wasn’t finalized until mid-October. So in 10 months I went from my submission to having a published book and app. That’s really fast! I was surprised by how the distribution process works. For the app, one day it’s on the App Store and boom--there ya go. Anyone with an iPad can get it. But with books, you deal with printing deadlines, shipping deadlines, official release date deadlines, arranging bookstore and library readings, making sure you have enough copies of the book on hand for sales and signings, etc. It’s all good stuff, but tough to juggle sometimes.
Was Teeny Tiny Trucks the first manuscript you circulated into submission as a picture book writer? If not, how long have you actively been submitting work as a children’s writer?
No, no. I started submitting manuscripts in 2009 right out of the gate. Probably too early, but I wanted in the game! And I’ve got a binder full of “thanks but no thanks” letters to show for it. And though I originally wrote Trucks as a picture book without apps in mind, it became the first app proposal I ever submitted.
What do you feel was the most important thing(s) you did that lead to publication?
For the longest time I felt like I needed to keep my music world and children’s book world separate. But I had to let go of what I thought was the “proper way” to get published. Once I started mixing things up and targeted a corner of the kidlit universe that played to my strengths, things took a turn.
Please tell us about your other published projects or things we can we look forward to in the future.
Well, I’m always submitting and working on new picture books. Right now, I’m also writing my first middle grade novel--a wacky, boyish, sci-fi adventure with a music angle (go figure). And, I’ve got a new album of songs for kids that’s in the works. Stay tuned!
Oooo...I can't wait! I will need that CD for my classroom of first graders!
It's been a pleasure having you with us today, Tim! Thanks for stopping by! Readers, if your child is in the market for a new vehicle, be sure to check out Teeny Tiny Trucks!