Tell us a little bit about the evolution of Monster Needs a Costume. What was the inspiration for your idea?
First and foremost thank you for doing this! This is a great idea, plus it gives me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject. Me. Just kidding!
As to your first question the simplest answer is that I stole it from my daughter, that’s right, complete and shameless plagiarism. Well technically, not plagiarism… she can’t even write yet. But it was my daughter who gave me the idea. I was driving my daughter to pre-school and she was in the back seat playing with her dolls when I heard her say “My monster needs a haircut.” I don’t know why she said it but the line clicked with me and by the time I got to work I had half the story written in my head. Once I had the first story done, titled Monster Needs A Haircut, other’s including Monster Needs A Costume followed suit. The theme for the Monster and Me books all came from watching my kids. When it came to Monster Needs A Costume it evolved from the fact that my kids couldn't decide on a costume for Halloween, and so neither can Monster.
Why did you decide to make your main character a monster?
My daughter chose that for me when she said those 5 faithful words, “My monster needs a haircut.” But I’ll be honest I feel that it really works. Mainly as you know being in the writing industry yourself, we as writers are always told you need to have the child solve the problems; (get rid of any parental influence). This can be difficult to follow. But by making the main character a monster, which is being raised/ helped along by a child, then the Monster becomes the child and the child becomes the parent. It’s a sneaky way to have a parent in there without having a parent.
I understand that Monster Needs a Costume is the first picture book you published. How long had you actively been submitting work as a children’s writer before this wonderful occurrence?
It’s been about three and half years since I started writing. I was actively submitting stories to different publishing houses and getting my share of rejections. I submitted to Scarletta Press in Jan 2012 and they responded within about a month saying they were considering my submission. Around the same time, two other publishers made inquires about it. So, I kind of knew I had something good on my hands. It wasn’t until October of that year that I knew for sure that they were buying my manuscript.
What helped me stumble upon this small success are two main things. The first is joining the SCBWI. And the second is joining a critique group. Without both of those things you would not know me from a hole in the wall. The information I received from the conferences I attended through the SCBWI, as well as the personal connections, is priceless. And without the incredible people in my critique group I would never know what to fix and what to keep in my manuscripts.
If you are able, tell us a little bit about what it is like on the publishing side of the business. How long did your process take from acceptance to publication?
From acceptance to publication was a little under a year. To some that may sound like a long time, but it’s not. That is a pretty quick time line when you think about the revisions, the illustrations, and the design. Not to mention the marketing, the distribution, and a whole host of other things I don’t understand. Scarletta is doing a fantastic job getting my book on the shelves and promoting it. So, I guess they are used to working with tight timelines!
How many rounds of editing did you go through?
I went through three rounds of editing with Monster Needs A Costume. I recently went through at least 4 rounds with two others slated to be released in 2014. I’ll be honest, the editing process was pretty painless. The biggest change to the story came right in the beginning. They wanted to change the title from My Monster Needs A Costume to Monster Needs A Costume. At first I was a little weary of the change especially since my story is in rhyme and when you remove a word it screws up the meter. But as we talked about it, the change made sense. Since Boy doesn’t own Monster, they are friends; it can’t be “My” Monster.
Were you able to communicate with Wendy Grieb, the illustrator of your book, during the editing stages?
I talked to Wendy a few times but nothing to do with editing. More along the lines of me telling her how much I love the illustrations that were filtering in. As far as I know, Wendy had free range on what to do with the story. Personally I think she nailed it. As for the second Monster story, Monster Needs his Sleep which will be out April 2014, I did have one request. I asked if she could put a picture of a light house in Monster’s room. I know that sounds odd! But, if you read the book and then listen Bird House In Your Soul by They Might Be Giants, you will understand.
Do you typically use illustration notes in your picture book submissions? And if so, do you feel they helped you with this first book?
I usually don’t use illustration notes. There are no illustration notes with any of my Monster and Me stories. That being said, if I needed to put them in, I would.
What has been the most challenging part of the publication process?
Waiting. I can’t stand it. When I first wrote my book I had no idea what it takes to get published so I figured once someone accepts it I will have my book within the month. Not quite. Even though “Costume” is being published rather quickly a year is a long time to wait. If I could give one piece of advice to writers who have submitted a book, turn off your email notification on your phone. Every time it alarms you are going to look and it will drive you crazy wondering if it’s a publisher.
As writers, we are always looking for great resources that can help us improve our craft. Have you taken any helpful courses, either online or other?
I have been to three SCBWI conferences and I have found nuggets of gold at each one. I have taken rhyming classes to marketing classes all of which have been helpful. Also you can’t underestimate the resource of just meeting people. I met Brian Lies, author of Bats at the Ball Game, at the 2012 conference and he ended up giving me a quote for my book.
How do you balance a writing career and your full-time job? Do you have a special routine that you utilize that might help other writers?
I do have a full time job; I am a chemist for a biopharmaceutical company. I don’t have a set routine when it comes to writing. I write when the urge hits me. Though when the urge hits me my family hates me because all I do is write. Though what I do like to do is when I hear something I immediately write it down, you never know when a simple comment like, my monster needs a haircut, will turn into something great.
Tell us about your upcoming projects:
Let’s see, Monster Needs his Sleep is set for April 2014. Monster Needs A Christmas Tree is set for September 2014. Monster Needs an Apron or possibly A Haircut is being decided upon for April 2015. And my first Non Monster story, Seaver the Weaver is set for April 2015.
Congratulations on all of your upcoming books! That is quite a list! I look forward to seeing them all in print! I can't wait to hold my very own copy of "Monster" in my hands. Thank you for allowing us to learn from you!