Thank you, Carrie, and thanks so much for having me on your awesome blog! Is this where I get to ask you questions? Oh, good. How did you get to have such a COOL NAME?!? I love “Charley”! And “Charley Brown” at that!!! I loved Charlie Brown, but you being a girl named Charley is even cooler. Oh, what? You get to ask me questions now? Okay then! I will Carrie on…
Ha, ha! You are funny, Salina! Congratulations on your new release, STORMY NIGHT! Did you know you wanted to continue the Bear/Bunny relationship right after you wrote FOUND? Or was this a publisher request?
Yes, I wanted Bear’s story to be a series, starting with FOUND, from the very beginning. BUT… Stormy Night was not the second book that I wrote for him. The second story I wrote was titled, “SMILE.” It was about Bear losing a very special gift he made for Floppy on his birthday. I loved this story so much that I nearly completed the artwork for this manuscript before ever showing it to my editor! (I’m sure you’ve heard to never do this. It’s true. One shouldn’t! But when I fall in love with a story, sometimes I can’t help myself). Sadly, it didn’t pass through acquisitions. My SMILE turned into a FROWN. I was heartbroken, but accepted it. They asked for a different story, still interested in a second book, but I couldn’t just write another immediately. The loss of SMILE made me want to set the next book aside (yes, I wanted to give up a little).
With growing experience in creating sequels, can you share any inside tidbits with us about how to make the next book in the series dance?
OH, I wish I knew the secret to this! I find that each book in a sequel gets harder and harder to write! In fact, it usually takes a few re-writes to complete each one. While I already wanted to have Bear as a series, I had no intention of Penguin being one until the publisher offered a 2-book deal from the start. So, I never planned on Penguin having 5 books as it turned out to have. (Fifth book, Penguin’s Big Adventure, releases in September)
I’ve had one burning question on my mind ever since I read FOUND for the first time. For those that are not aware, when you open FOUND, you are greeted with a giant “LOST” board. The ideas included are so clever and hilarious. Surely this included some research on your part, Salina! How did you discover so many original ideas for the Lost Board endpapers? And how long did this illustration take you in comparison to your other layouts?
I’m so glad you asked this because I cannot take credit for this alone! I remember when I had the idea of wanting to put up a community board in my book, and needed lots of ideas for the various “LOST” items. I wanted the items to be quirky and humorous, and not necessarily lost things that are obvious… like a lost cat, or lost bike. At the time, I was an active member of Verla Kay’s Blueboards, now the SCBWI Blueboards. This is an online board for a community of children’s (published or aspiring) authors and illustrators who share information, offer support, or just have fun together. I’ve made many writer friends from this site.
So one day, I posted in the RESEARCH section asking people to post a funny “LOST” items…. giving an example like losing one’s marbles. I got dozens of ideas from writing friends! Then I considered what would make the best LOST flyers, and how I could make them visually humorous. I was on the fence about including Amelia Earhart… because it’s not funny that she was never found. But I decided that I would rather include her to inspire curiosity from readers than have no mention at all, so it stayed. Other ideas included the lost cone hat, with the headline, “I Want My Hat Back,” a tribute to Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, a couple of nods to my Penguin books (a lost pinecone and lost beach ball), and “LOST, Seasons 1-6.” Hee hee. I loved that series. But I’m so grateful to my Blueboarders! Writer friends are always eager to help each other out, and sometimes, we find that we’re more creative when helping a fellow author out than writing our own material! Or… it’s procrastination.
As someone with many books published, what has been the most challenging part of the publication process?
Waiting. There’s lots of waiting. So in order to keep me distracted from this awful waiting, I would start a new project as soon as one went out. This was helpful.
For MOST of my publishing career, I published between 10-12 new (10-page novelty) titles a year. The challenging part was not just coming up with new ideas. I had plenty of ideas! But it was to keep my various publishers happy, so that each new series felt fresh and different from the others. I worked with Penguin, Scholastic, S&S, Random House, Little, Brown, Running Press, Macmillan, and many others with various overlaps. I often changed my art style to keep the look fresh and new, so my books would not compete against each other on a shelf. Trying to be fresh with my work was always a challenge. And it still is!
Now the challenge is writing three separate narrative series, in a whole different genre from my more familiar novelty books.
Do you enjoy working on certain types of projects more than others?
The FIRST book of a potential series is always the MOST fun! The boundaries aren’t set yet on a first book. There’s much more freedom. You’d think that means I only enjoy stand alone books, but there’s something very rewarding about continuing on with a world you’ve created, too. Writing it is another story, but having it continue on is an amazing feeling.
Looking back at all of the books you’ve released, I’ve noticed how you’ve expanded to stories featuring sweet relationships and a slightly older audience (older in the sense of board books vs. picture books). What prompted the change and did you utilize any writing/illustrating craft resources to help you grow as author? How do you find time to keep learning as a successful author?
I started creating novelty board books before I had children, and even before I was married. For me, creating a novelty book was like solving a puzzle, and puzzles are so challenging and satisfying! Each piece had to fit: the format, the concept, and the art style in perfect harmony.
Soon, I married and had babies. As they got older, I read them picture books. I fell in love with this format, the 32-40 page story picture book. I hadn’t written stories before, and never even considered myself a “writer.” I wrote concept text for my novelties, but never stories. I think this is when I started to wonder if I could do this too. My picture book writing career began with “Penguin and Pinecone,” published in 2012, and I haven’t been able to stop writing picture books since! I’ve completed eight picture books now and counting!
The secret? BE BRAVE! Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable, insecure, and afraid at first. Then think about giving up. 100% failure rate if you don’t try, right? So… I figure the odds are better if I actually TRY it! Fight through the negative thoughts and center on your passion. Do what you love. Do what you’re drawn to! It won’t feel like work (until revisions)! And this one is important: Allow yourself to fail. Shake it off when you do (because you will—many times), and get back on track. This has been the story of my 150+ book career. I can’t even count how many rejections I’ve had. It’s in the hundreds! Why count?! I don’t. But I know how many yeses I got!
And the best resource I had for writing picture books was simply to READ READ READ them! Love them. Breathe them in and breathe them out. I’ve never read a craft book on writing or illustrating children’s books, though I own a couple books and read a couple of chapters. (And I took a children’s illustration class once in college.) I can’t get myself to read craft books. I’m more visual, and I’m afraid that by reading a craft book, I will be too self-conscious about “doing it right,” and stop my more intuitive method of writing by storyboard.
This is the original very first draft of FOUND. I draw while I make little scribbly notes that only I can read. (Good luck in decoding yourself!). You'll see that some things actually stayed pretty similar to the final book, but pages have been added, and almost all text has been revised. Story remains the same however. It's been my practice to always draw the entire book on a single piece of paper, so I can see the beginning, middle and end all at once… visually. I want each spread to offer something new and move the story along. I try to vary my spreads from full spread images to vignettes, to half spreads, etc. Often times, I will actually cut out the pieces of these drawings to rearrange them, add extra spreads, replace ones I don't like, and reconstruct the order as necessary. It's a very cut and paste process!
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your heart with us today! I'm inspired! I'm ready to fail and get back up! And when I tell myself I can't, I will read this interview again. It has been a joy learning from you.
Thank you, Carrie! These were great and thoughtful questions.
Salina is generously giving away copies of STORMY NIGHT, FOUND, and a FLOPPY stuffed bunny!
Salina Yoon is an award-winning author/illustrator of the Penguin and Bear picture book series, including over a hundred interactive novelty books for young children. Forthcoming is PENGUIN’S BIG ADVENTURE (in Sept), BOY MEETS GIRL (in Jan/2016), and a new beginning reader series, DUCK DUCK PORCUPINE (in May/2016). www.salinayoon.com