Seven Impossible Interviews
Before Breakfast #86 (And Some Most Excellent,
FREE Advice on Writing Picture Books): Andrea Beaty

h1 June 8th, 2010 by jules

I’m so pleased to be having some cyber-coffee this morning with author and blogger Andrea Beaty, who is being hypnotized here by murderous galaxy-hopping bunnies, as depicted by illustrator Dan Santat. I’m a super-big fan of Andrea’s picture books, in particular, many of which I’ve covered here previously at 7-Imp, including 2006′s When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; 2007′s Iggy Peck: Architect, illustrated by David Roberts; 2008′s Doctor Ted, followed by last year’s Firefighter Ted, both illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre; and last year’s Hush, Baby Ghostling, also illustrated by Lemaitre.

But Andrea’s written above and beyond picture books, too. She’s written for middle-grade readers as well. Here’s my 2008 review of Andrea’s Cicada Summer, a beautiful, poignant read. And she’s back this year with a rollickin’ good read for late-elementary/middle-grade readers, released by Amulet Books last month. It’s called Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, and it’s illustrated by the one and only aforementioned Dan Santat (who might show up again here later this week, so things will be comin’ up very Santat here at 7-Imp, which is an altogether good thing). I love this book, which Booklist aptly describes as a “lighthearted, clever send-up of zany horror conventions” and Publishers Weekly as a “screwy, nonsensical thriller,” as well as a “wholly fun read.”

The book is about none other than Joules and Kevin Rockman, who expected to spend their summer at Camp Whatsitooya, and their attempts to save the planet from an invasion of giant, sugar-addicted, evil, seven-foot-tall alien rabbits.

I love what prompted Andrea to write this tale, which she talks about below. And I generally love the great respect she has for child readers. I say this so much at 7-Imp that this might actually be the moment when you say, “Jules, I’ve had it with your redundancy. I shall no longer read your blog,” but I try my best to cover books here that don’t treat child readers like little idiots, and Andrea has got this goin’ on. She is ever-so respectful to them. Let’s get right to her interview, and I thank her for stopping by…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: I’m dying to hear the genesis behind Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies. And did you get to hand-pick Santat as your illustrator, by chance?

Andrea: Second question first:

No, my brilliant editor, Susan VanMetre at Amulet (Abrams Books for Young Readers), asked Dan to illustrate this book. He is the PERFECT artist for this and brought so much humor to the illustrations. I can’t imagine a better choice!

First question last:

There are two versions to this answer.

The long version:

Actually, this idea rose from a rather unflattering character trait I sometimes exhibit. It comes from the oh-yeah-well-I-can-do-that-too gene. One day, I found myself annoyed by people who think that kids’ books should be sweet and cute and darling and nice. And, yes, they can (and sometimes should) be those things. Some of my favorite books ARE those things. But geez, Louise! These are the kind of people who think a character like Ted should be punished for messing things up instead of celebrated for being passionate and helpful, even if he does mess things up. Kids are smart and funny and capable of understanding so much. They are not less than adults but are their own magnificent beings with brains and funny bones.

Anyhow . . . I decided that I should write a sweet and cute and darling and nice story. About bunnies. Bunnies are so darling. So, I started. After a minute, I thought it might be nice for the bunnies to be really big. After two minutes, I thought it might be nice for the bunnies to have fangs. After three minutes, I knew they were killer aliens which come to Earth to wreak havoc after a flaming meteor hits their marshmallow planet. Can you say s’mores? So much for writing a darling bunny book. On the other hand, I immediately got over being peeved and had the best summer of writing EVER!

The short version:

I’m immature.

7-Imp: You seem to write about creativity a lot in your books –- Ted and Iggy, for instance, are super-creative think-outside-of-the-box folks. Do you consciously set out to write about such characters?

“‘A parade!’ shouted Firefighter Ted. ‘Firefighters always lead parades!’ Firefighter Ted led the parade down the hall. ‘Whoooooo-whoooooo-whooooo!’ All the other classes came out to watch. ‘Everyone loves a parade,’ said Firefighter Ted,
and he waved to the crowd.”
(Click to enlarge.)

Andrea: I really don’t set out to write anything in particular when I begin a story, but creative kids seem to be a theme with me. I grew up in a very creative family in a lovely but very tiny town (200 people). We were the odd ducks there. And not just because we walked funny and had feathers. We were goofy and laughed all the time and made things from whatever we could find. My sister and I once made a palm tree for our bedroom by decorating discarded stovepipes. It was cool. We pretty much thought we were all that and a bag of chips. Chips . . . yum.

The people in the town were great, but it was pretty common to hear, “Oh, you’re so funny . . .” or “You’re so creative . . .“ with that little pause at the end which translates to “weird” or “crazy” or “dressed like a goon.” All of which might have been true — but irrelevant to us. Luckily, there were six of us acting like goons, so we didn’t care.

Now, I meet kids who are just like that. They are the awesome, cool, inventive, wonderful, joyous, and often oblivious kids who are so into their own brilliant imaginations that others just don’t get them. They are Ted and Iggy.

I get letters from parents who call themselves “Iggy’s mom” or “Ted’s dad.” Though ironically, nobody has yet come forth as Principal Bigham!

So, in the end, these are the kids who change the world, and I love them. So, yeah, I guess it’s a theme with me.

7-Imp: Is the setting in Cicada Summer {hardcover image by John Hendrix pictured left} based intentionally on your childhood hometown? (You say at your site that you grew up in a “town so small I knew everybody and their pets. And they all knew me.”) And random question: Do you like the new paperback cover for Cicada Summer?

Andrea: Random answer: I LOVE the new cover (artist Amy Bates). It’s beautiful and mysterious! I think it will invite those mystery-loving summer readers! {Paperback cover pictured below.}

As for my hometown…

Olena is almost a carbon copy of my hometown in southern Illinois. Or, at least the town as it was in the 1970s. In fact, last year, I was invited to visit the school I went to as a kid. It was amazing. The 8th graders had all read the novel and knew exactly which trees I was talking about. That visit was like getting in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine! The gym actually smells the same as it did when I was in 8th grade.

Some of the names in Cicada Summer were actually taken from people I knew, though the characters are different. My family ran the store just like the one in the novel, and we bought it from a lady named Fern. My town was filled with farmers in overalls and old ladies in faded houses and fields to explore. It was a great place to grow up.

Cicada Summer was both very difficult and easy to write. It was very emotional, but it was also so vivid in my mind that I often felt I was simply describing the movie that was in my head.

7-Imp: What was your road to publication?

Andrea: I began writing picture book texts when my kids were about 5 & 3 years old. It was so much fun that I wanted to do more and more of it. After a bit, I thought that maybe I should try to get published, so I started mailing out submissions to everybody and their dog. And I got lots and lots of rejections. The ones from the dogs were the hardest to take. Dogs can be very harsh.

Eventually, I thought about agents and sent my manuscript to Barry Goldblatt, who pulled it from his slush pile. We’ve been working together ever since!

7-Imp: You have written books geared at different age ranges within the realm of children’s lit (picture books, middle-grade novels). What advice do you have for aspiring authors who wish to do the same? How different was the process of writing Cicada Summer compared to, say, When Giants Come to Play (other than the obvious difference in book length)?

Andrea: My advice to aspiring writers is to write the book you have inside you. Don’t try to make a picture book into a novel or vice versa. Each book knows what it is, and trying to make it something shorter or longer just spoils it. I liken the process of writing a picture book to a short sprint and writing a novel to running a marathon. I find picture books easier to write, because they are pretty much full-formed when they show up, so I never get too weary of writing them before they are done. The end is in sight before I begin writing. However, novels are much tougher in that regard. There’s a spot 2/3rds through that feels like the end will never come. However, I find that both are helped by eating chocolate while writing!

7-Imp: Did any part of it surprise you?

Andrea: It all surprises me! I set out to be a biologist, became a computer nerd, and ended up writing books for kids. SURPRISE!

7-Imp: Pascal Lemaitre has illustrated several of your picture books? What was it like to see him bring your words to life the first time?

Andrea: Pascal is a wonder! His art is so simple yet deceptively complex. Even after reading Doctor Ted a hundred times, I find small details that I never noticed. As for the second question . . . The image of Doctor Ted actually came first. Pascal sometimes creates these funny tiny pictures. He had one of this cool bear dressed as a doctor. He showed it to Justin Chanda, who was our editor at the time, and Justin asked if I might have any thoughts about the bear. Ted had such a strong voice that I wrote a story and sent it back a couple of hours later!

7-Imp: How does blogging inform your writing, if at all?

Andrea: I don’t know that it does directly, but it helps me keep up with other books being published, which is probably a good thing.

7-Imp: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process/”craft”? Do you outline plot before you write or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


Andrea’s back yard camper writing studio

Andrea: Each book is so different in that regard. Cicada Summer came to me in complete, but out of sequence, scenes. I wrote them without knowing who or what was going on, and I just hoped they would all line up into some sort of reasonable narrative. It worked out, to my utter amazement.

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies involved plotting out the entire story (more or less). I knew certain marker events and how things would end. Then, I had to go back and fill in the gaps, which I wrote as I went along. Sometimes, the story took unexpected turns, but it always met up again at those marker events.

Rhyming picture books sometimes evolve based on a surprising rhyme! I really didn’t know where Iggy Peck would go until I got out the Flip Dictionary and started looking for architectural terms. I found “trestle” which rhymes with “nestle” and the rest is history! Or architecture, as the case may be.

7-Imp: I know this question is considered cliché, but as a book lover, it interests me: What books and/or authors had an especially significant impact upon you as an early reader? Was the Nancy Drew series one? Those books are so pivotal to Cicada Summer.

Andrea: I was the world’s biggest Nancy Drew fan. I wanted to be Nancy, off driving around the country with Bess and George in that nifty convertible. I always identified with George and secretly hated Bess. Shhhh. Don’t tell.

After Nancy Drew, I moved up to Daphne DuMaurier and Agatha Christie and then on to Faulkner and Steinbeck. I don’t think I would have done that had I not been such an eager reader for Nancy Drew. It was bubblegum, but it got me into reading. That’s why I think kids should read whatever interests them — from Captain Underpants to whatever is the opposite of Captain Underpants. What would that be?

7-Imp: Okay, so this sounds cliché, too, but I still think it’s a good question: What advice would you give to aspiring picture-book authors?

Andrea:

  1. Become a good editor. Get, read, and take to heart a book like The Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnik. Or Edit Yourself by Bruce Ross-Larson. Picture books are about self-editing. If you aren’t sure something should be in the book, you are probably right. Take it out. Put it into a drawer for safe keeping and forget about it.
  2. Read poetry. Prose picture books are about poetry. You have very few words to say exactly what needs to be said. Treating the text as poetry will make each word pack the greatest punch possible.
  3. Rhyming picture books are not about poetry. They are about music. A book knows if it is in rhyme or not. NEVER make one rhyme if it shouldn’t. It’s just too painful for everybody. Especially the reader.
  4. If you are not funny, don’t try to write funny. Same for writing rhyming books. Sounds harsh, but there you are.
  5. Let the pictures do the heavy lifting. They are called picture books for a reason!
  6. Get a Flip Dictionary. It’s the most helpful resource. Can help you find all kinds of names and terms and delicious words.

7-Imp: Tell me what your school visits are like.

Andrea: In a word . . . Silly. We have fun. Honestly, if I got bored doing a presentation, how would the kids feel? Life is too short to make children sad. I am very improvisational in my presentations and try to get kids excited about reading and writing. Sometimes we make up stories together. I can’t teach kids too much in 45 minutes, but I figure I CAN share my enthusiasm and get them jazzed up about reading and writing. I think it’s a great day when I can get 150 fourth graders to snort with laughter.



“Me at the Harry Potter, Book Seven release party, held by Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. I am dressed as Neville’s mother. I’m with Jan Dundon, who was Madame Hooch. In the other picture, I’m with my teens who are Hermione and Lupin.”

7-Imp: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell me about? What’s Ted up to now?

Andrea: I am working on a mid-grade novel called The Fractious Cat, which will require revisions this summer. More about that when I know how it turns out! Ted is in the process of becoming an artist. Hopefully, next year!

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Andrea: I’m in the Witness Protection Program. Damn! Did I just say that out loud?

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors (or even illustrators) — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Andrea: Mélanie Watt (Scaredy Squirrel), Emily Gravett (Wolves), and Jenny Offill (17 Things I’m not Allowed to Do Anymore). Such funny books must have some pretty funny ladies behind them!

7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you –- but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Andrea:

Question: Can I give you a million dollars?

Answer: Yes.

Wow. That was easy. I shall contact you with wire transfer information. Thanks, 7-Imp!

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Andrea: “Whimsy.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Andrea: “Behave.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Andrea: Curiosity and a sense of wonder.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Andrea: A lack of absurdity.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Andrea: The hyphenated one.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Andrea: The wind.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Andrea: Fox News.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Andrea: Zamboni Driver.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Andrea: Big Dancing Rat at Chuck-E-Cheese.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Andrea: “Psych!”

* * * * * * *

Photographs used with permission of Andrea Beaty. Images from Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies used with permission of Dan Santat.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan. Thanks to Matt, Alfred now lives permanently at 7-Imp and is always waiting to throw the Pivot Questionnaire at folks.

The Pascal-Lemaitre art is re-printed from previous 7-Imp posts. All rights reserved.





13 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews
Before Breakfast #86 (And Some Most Excellent,
FREE Advice on Writing Picture Books): Andrea Beaty”

  1. Wonderful interview! I enjoyed it thoroughly. I, too, would be a Zamboni driver if I couldn’t be a writer. But I can’t believe Andrea writes in a pop-up camper. (I had a bad camping experience.)

    Thanks Jules – and Andrea.


  2. What an informative, funny interview! (“Can you say s’mores?”) Ha, ha, ha! I snorted my coffee more than once. Thanks, you guys!

    And I’m taking lots of Andrea’s advice (including buying a Flip Dictionary today and loading up on chocolate to finish my middle-grade.)

    I totally agree that “rhyming books are about music,” but didn’t realize it concretely until I read Andrea’a statement. That’s a genuine early-morning WIN.

    Thanks especially for that.


  3. Fun interview! I really must look into this zamboni driver thing.

    I can vouch for the Flip Dictionary! Use it all the time. One thing, though. If she gets a million dollars, I get a million dollars. And a fluffy bunny must deliver it.


  4. Seven Imp never ceases to amaze me. This is such a good, funny interview (I bet it’s got at least 150 adults snorting in laughter) — thanks, Andrea and Jules!

    And I’d never even heard of a Flip Dictionary before reading this. I don’t aspire to write books for kids, really — nor poetry, come to that — but it sounds like the sort of book that everybody Of A Certain Age needs to have chained to his or her wrist. (I need an adjective there before “Age” — it’s something like forgetful or even amnesiac, but darned if I can think of it now. Exactly the occasion for which one needs a Flip Dictionary, as it happens!


  5. Oh, I was glad to see Andrea and Ted here. I put Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies on order the MOMENT I saw it in a catalog because of a.) Andrea’s excellent books/reputation, and b.) because I think I may also be immature and attacking bunnies seemed like just the thing I needed.

    Jules, Didn’t someone else say they wanted to be a Zamboni driver in their Pivot somewhere along the way? Honestly, I’ve always wanted to drive a Zamboni, too, although on a recreational more than a professional basis.


  6. That picture reminds me of my face as I look at the images from the BP corporate crime oil spill….


  7. [...] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Seven Impossible InterviewsBefore Breakfast #86 (And Some Most Excellent,FREE Advice on Writing Pict… [...]


  8. For more on ATTACK OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES click here!
    http://cwdesigner.blogspot.com/2010/06/evolution-of-attack-of-fluffy-bunnies.html


  9. What a great interview! I’ve never read her books, but they have now joined my ever-growing list of ones I’d like to read.

    (Also, I’m new to your blog, but I love it already. How could I not like it? I’m a student librarian at my University, and more books is always a good thing.)


  10. Adrienne, here I am answering, 2,000 years later: I don’t recall anyone else saying that, and a blog search tells me that I don’t think anyone else did.


  11. I had an ex-boyfriend who was a part-time Zamboni driver; it’s actually a highly overrated occupation. (Yes I’m from Canada.) But using a Zamboni to clean the ice is MUCH preferable to having to scrape it by hand. (Although if you’re really lazy you can just do an extra hot-water flood).

    Great interview BTW! Ditto on the love for the rhyming=music comment.


  12. Once again another great interview! Jules your blog is the most wonderful resource into the minds, processes and lives of great people! Thank you so much for sharing! :)


  13. [...] Author Andrea Beaty on how she came to write 2010’s Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies (June 8, 2010): [...]


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