PRESIDENTIAL PETS-Interview with Julia Moberg

First, please introduce yourself, your editing background, and what drew you to children’s books.

I’m Julia Moberg, and PRESIDENTIAL PETS is my second book. I have had the pleasure of working in the publishing world for the past 10 years. I started at a small company called Newmarket Press, where I worked as an publicity and marketing assistant on film and television books. From there, I landed a job at the Penguin Group, working in their managing editorial department for one of their adult imprints. I learned a lot about how the publishing industry works through both of these positions, but I always knew that children’s books were what I ultimately wanted to work on. I left Penguin and went to work as the editor for the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club for six years.

The books I read growing up left the biggest impressions on me. I guess you could say that authors like Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Mary Downing Hahn, Maud Hart Lovelace, and Robert Newton Peck drew me to children’s books.

What was your general journey to publication with PRESIDENTIAL PETS?

Because I worked in the publishing industry, I decided to agent the book myself. I sent the manuscript around to all of my contacts at the various houses. Although many of the publishers liked the subject matter, they thought that poetry was too hard to sell these days. But then Charles and Jeremy Nurnberg at Imagine Books wrote back expressing interest in the subject matter. They wanted me to shorten the poems and asked me to add some fun facts about each president. I re-wrote each poem, and added fun facts. Soon after, they offered me a publishing contract. They assigned me a wonderful editor, and we started the huge task of verifying all of the factual information. Soon after, Imagine found Jeff Albrecht, who illustrated the book.

What interested you in the topic of presidential pets?

I’ve always been fascinated by little-known pieces of history. I first learned that Abraham Lincoln had a dog through a work colleague of mine,  and that intrigued me. I started reading more on the subject of presidential pets, and was amazed that there were all these wacky and weird animals that had called the White House their home. I immediately thought: This is a book for kids!

Researching forty-four presidents seems a monumental task. How did you tackle the research process? What kinds of sources did you reference?

It was a monumental task. Originally, I just started listing all the basic information, such as date of birth, who the first lady was, and how long each president’s term was. But then as I continued to learn more about each president, I realized that the book could be so much more than a compilation of each president’s pets. It could ultimately tell the story of our country. So I began to research, select, and write more in-depth accomplishments and events that happened during each presidency. I used encyclopedias, White House records, newspapers, presidential museums and estates, and various other books and sources for reference. We had to be very careful and absolutely sure that each fact was true. A few times I did have a piece of information from a lesser source that we could not verify, and would have to cut.

I noticed there is no bibliography included in the book. Was this a publisher decision?

The publisher decided to include an index in the back of the book rather than to include a whole bibliography.

Your coverage for each president goes beyond their respective pets and introduces bite-sized facts about each man’s presidency and family life.  How difficult was it to narrow down which facts to include?

It depended on the president. Some presidents it was difficult to decide which facts to include, and others it was a struggle to find enough facts! William Henry Harrison, for instance, was only in office for 31 days. He accomplished very little, and as a result I had very little to write about him. Other presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in office for 12 years, had more than enough information to include. Ultimately, I wanted to include the facts that would interest kids the most. I wanted the reader to learn something without realize they were learning.

Who had the weirdest, wackiest, strangest animals you came across in your research?

One of the weirdest & wackiest animals was John Quincy Adams’ alligator. It was a gift from a Frenchman named Marquis de Lafayette and lived in a East Room bathroom for at least two months. This was definitely one of the strangest animals that has lived at the White House, and was also one of the first animals I researched for the project.

Thanks so much for sending such great questions, Donna. I have also attached my author photo in case you want to use it on your blog. Please let me know when you post it, and I will link to it on Facebook.

Many thanks,
Julia Moberg

Author interview: Cynthia Levinson


Cynthia Levinson enjoyed a twenty-five year career in various corners of the educational system, helping make schools, classrooms, and policies better for kids. She’s also written extensively for children’s magazines like Odyssey, Faces, Dig, Cobblestone, Highlights, Stepping Stones, and others. Her evolution into the role of book author seems a natural progression. 

Last week, I posted a review of Cynthia’s powerful middle grade nonfiction book, WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH (Peachtree, February 2012.) The book hasn’t officially released yet, but it has already garnered starred reviews by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist, and is racking up similarly glowing reviews from School Library Journal and others. 

Cynthia very kindly agreed to a Q and A interview for me. So, let’s dive right in to hear the story behind the story.

What inspired you to write about the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March?


In May 1963, I was a high school senior in Columbus, Ohio—just a little older than and half a world away from three of the four “main characters” I interviewed extensively for the book. We had a “colored” maid, who lived on her side of town. But, other than Betty, I didn’t know any black people—which is why I grew up only half a world, not a whole world away from Birmingham. 
     My father loved talking about history and politics at the dinner table. So, I knew that people in the South were protesting segregation and that some of them were being assaulted by dogs and water canons. What I didn’t know was that those people were children. And I continued to be oblivious of this crucial fact, even though I later taught American History in middle school and high school. The moment that I made that belated discovery, while researching an article on music in the civil rights era for Cobblestone magazine, I knew I had to write a book.


From initial idea to completed book, what was your journey to publication?


With sharp twists and turns, long slogs up steep slopes, and precipitous drops into ravines, the journey was definitely queasy-making. After spending three months reading everything I could find on the Children’s March and on civil rights in Alabama, I developed a proposal. Chris Barton generously looked at it and, even more generously, shared it with his agent, Erin Murphy, who signed me! That was the first peak. The next one—making a sale—took another 18 months and entailed 18 or 20 rejections. (It’s still too depressing to count them all. As I recall, one publisher rejected it twice.)


Once we found an interested—actually, very enthusiastic—publisher, two others quickly followed. And the book went to auction! The offers were wonderful in different ways, and it was a deliciously hard decision. But, after choosing Peachtree, I’ve never looked back, especially when I see the terrific book (shameless self-promotion) that my editor, Kathy Landwehr, helped me produce. I, literally, could not have done it without her.

Of the four thousand young people involved in the historic march, why did you choose Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker, III, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter as your point of view characters?

First of all, they’re wonderful, candid people who want young people to know the story of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, especially what young people can accomplish. (I use the present tense here, though, sadly, Audrey died two years ago.) Also, because of their different backgrounds and involvement in the movement, each of them provides a window into black life, politics, and history there. The situation was complex and nuanced, and they offer personal ways to convey essential information. As well, every reader has someone to identify with.  Maybe most importantly, Audrey, James, Arnetta, and Wash were willing to let me interview them for hours at a time over several years. I pursued one other person, who was ambivalent about participating but had great stories to share, for almost a year. In the end, she needed to retain her privacy, for understandable reasons.


You’ve done a remarkable job of weaving in direct quotes and photos, while laying a contextual foundation about the political environment of the time as well as the ever-evolving Civil Rights Movement. What kinds of research was involved?


Thank you!


     As I mentioned, I started by reading. Fortunately, much has been written about the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. The events there were so melodramatic—beatings, hoses, dogs, jails. I started with two hefty Pulitzer-prize-winning tomes and, then, went on to other prize-worthy texts, including children’s books (though, at the time, nothing was available for kids on the Children’s March). I read solidly for three months.


     At about that time, I discovered the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), which has an excellent website, and, even better for my purposes, video interviews with hundreds of civil rights activists. I watched snippets of these interviews online and read many dozens of transcripts.


     Finally, I was ready for my first trip to Birmingham. In addition to spending days in the BCRI and Birmingham Public Library archives, I wanted to meet the people I had been reading about. But, as a new writer, with only magazine articles to my name, I wondered if busy, professional people would be willing to meet with me to talk about events of 45 years ago. Many did! I interviewed not only black people who had marched in 1963 but also white people, including a policeman, about their perspectives. This trip convinced me that onsite research is invaluable, and I ended up taking two more trips to Birmingham—one for the 45th anniversary of the March and another with my editor.


     Then, while writing the book, I listened to spirituals, gospel music, civil rights songs, sermons, mass meetings. Hearing the voices of the times and the place lent a tone to the text and inspired me to keep writing.


What were the most difficult aspects of writing the book?


There were two main problems I had to grapple with. Above all, everyone knows the outcome. How do you keep readers engaged when they already know what happened? One solution, I discovered, is that, while readers know the end result, they don’t know the steps that led to it. So, including the daily details, just as the four marchers experienced them, maintains the suspense.


Some of these details, however, were arcane. In the midst of the marches, Birmingham was holding mayoral and city council elections. Figuring out how to convey the importance of municipal politics, of all things, without losing readers was tricky. Perhaps some of your readers will tell me how well I succeeded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? Perhaps an anecdote or some such that didn’t make it into the book?

There is a funny story that didn’t fit in the final book. One of the inmates in James’ cell was a man, wearing a business suit, who got swept up in the mass arrests as he walked to work on Thursday morning, May 2, 1963. Repulsed by the tasteless food, he asked a jailer, “Excuse me, do you think I could have some hot sauce?” Even the jailer laughed. The kids, not knowing his name, called him “Hot Sauce.” They’d say, “Hey, Hot Sauce, see if you can get us scotch and soda.”


What do you hope young readers will take away from WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH?


I hope for layers of knowledge and understanding, and I hope for action. That is, the story of what children accomplished in Birmingham is not well known. So, first, I want this episode to become as familiar in Civil Rights lore as Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders. Beyond that, the fight for desegregation was not simply a matter of good guys versus bad guys or blacks versus whites. The story is complicated, and I think it’s important for young people to absorb and appreciate the complexity of society and of change. Finally, I would love to see Peace Ponies sprout around America. (For your blog readers who don’t know what I’m referring to, I urge them to read the book, including the dedication.)


What can we expect to see from you next?


My editor has two picture book manuscripts, one of which focuses on Audrey, that I hope we’ll all see some day! And, I’m working on a longer piece that also shows remarkable things that children can do.

Learn more at Cynthia Levinson‘s website. She also blogs with her agent mates at Emu’s Debuts.

How Far Would You Go to Sell a Manuscript?. Marc Tyler Nobleman’s “Picture Book Experiment”

The below interview with author Marc Tyler Nobleman published on my blog in 2011. I’m pleased to share that Thirty Minutes Over Oregon was released on October 8, 2018 from Clarion Books. In the seven years since this interview—and before Thirty Minutes published— Marc wrote and published many other books. He never gave up on this story. What an example of persistence and determination! Bravo, Marc!
          Readers, you can purchase the book from your favorite local indie or from Amazon here. Read more about the book’s launch and Marc’s ~30 posts related to his journey with the book on his website here.  



Most of us know what it’s like to pour our hearts, soul, and time into a manuscript only to have it rejected by numerous publishers. But, how far would you go to market your manuscript?  Marc Tyler Nobleman decided to kick the promotional energies into high gear with a well-targeted, public campaign with a visual twist.

Mock book cover by Kevin O’Malley


You may know Marc for his 70+ books (as of 2011) for children, including the smash-hit picture book biography BOYS OF STEEL (Knopf, 2008.) He was kind enough to agree to an interview for me back on Nov. 23, 2010.  A few weeks ago, I heard from Marc about his self-declared “picture book experiment.” It’s the ultimate example of being a champion for your own work. He graciously agreed to sit in the hot seat of my little blog for a Q&A about this latest campaign. 

Welcome back, Marc!

Recently, you began an online initiative to garner attention for your as-yet-unsold manuscript titled Thirty Minutes Over Oregon. What editorial journey has led to this very unique public pitch campaign for the manuscript?

Up to a point, the journey was a familiar one; rejection is part of most writers’ experience. What stood out to me here was the WAY I was being rejected—the language the editors used to say no was not pat form letter praise. Quite the opposite—some editors seemed genuinely moved by the story (and I mean the events, not necessarily my telling of them, though some did say nice things about my writing, too). This is why I started my post with their words. With such humbling feedback yet no takers, I felt it was a challenge to find a way to overturn whatever it was that made their concerns trump their compliments.

You’ve shared some intriguing snippets about your story, along with a compelling flap copy summary on your blog. What is it about this story that speaks to you on a personal level?

Well, not combat! As I state in the post, I’m not a war buff—or a Japanophile, or an Oregon native. My connection to the story is wholly as an outsider. I think it boils down to a simple formula—it’s half action and half emotion. The first half—the war half—is not only edge-of-your-ledge harrowing, it’s also rich with opportunities for an illustrator. To wit, the opening scene is a plane launching off a submarine! The second half of the story spans 1962-1997 and is one of the most astounding accounts of reconciliation and redemption I’ve personally encountered. There are multiple moments that elicit a gasp or a gape or a choke, and none feel manipulative or cynical. The real-life story is a writer’s dream from start to poignant end.

Many writers (especially nonfiction) are guarded about their works-in-progress for fear that another writer will “steal” their idea. Do you have any concerns about this?

Not anymore! Now that the story has gone public via this experiment, I feel secure in believing that if anyone is going to get it into a picture book, it’ll be me.

You have shared the glowing responses from editors in your original blog post, and your post addendum on October 6th that includes feedback from teachers, librarians, and other readers. Why do you think the manuscript hasn’t been acquired yet? 

Of course a thought that crosses every writer’s mind: maybe the editors like it less than they let on and are just trying to let me down easy! In this case, however, I think the reason no one has yet acquired the manuscript is indeed the reason many have given me: nonfiction is a tough sell, quirky nonfiction is way tougher.

A few also felt the story would suit an audience slightly older than the picture book crowd. I agree. But I feel it also needs to be told at the picture book level, and can be done so sensitively, as many have before on delicate topics ranging from the Holocaust to cancer. See Marc’s related blog post here.

Besides, as more than a couple of the teachers/librarians have commented in response to my experiment, there is still a need for picture books in upper elementary and middle school—examples include boys who are not drawn to fiction and students reading below grade level.

Why did you choose to pursue mock book covers at this point? And how did you entice seven professional illustrators to volunteer their art?

Mock book cover by Justin LaRocca Hansen
Mock book cover by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Even though editors were recognizing the value of the story, none had yet acquired it, so I was interested in a way to further validate it. I could prattle on for paragraphs with reasons but thought it would make a bolder statement if OTHERS would go to bat for it instead.

I actually asked more than seven illustrators and was touched that more than seven were interested in contributing, but my preferred time frame was off for some; they had particularly pressing deadlines, travel, etc. Truth is, I was surprised that ANY were willing to do something that might not make any difference for me, let alone them! Truly selfless talents.

Someone asked me if I was nervous about this experiment. I was, but I think the most nerve-racking part was approaching the artists.

As for how I enticed them, I e-mailed them an impassioned manifesto about my story and quirky nonfiction in general (and that became the foundation for the blog post). It was rather long so some artists might’ve said yes because that was quicker than reading to the end. : )  (Note to readers: All seven mock covers can be seen on Marc’s blog post.)

You mention this in your original blog post, so I have to ask; What are the “Thirty Reasons to Acquire Thirty Minutes?”

Ah, great question! Some were repurposed in my blog post. Others are in the reserves—to be trotted out if none of this works! But the key words are “first,” “only,” and “whoa.”

What responses have you gotten from editors and others in the publishing industry, since posting the mock book covers and launching your public pitch?

I’ve been compiling and sharing them in a follow-up post. One editor called my approach innovative. Some have praised my passion. My favorite editorial response to date is included at that post. Several editors have requested the manuscript since (in addition to some who had requested it before the post went up); I’m doing interviews like these to increase the chance that more editors will learn of this.

What’s the next step in this pitch campaign?

Follow up with editors! Find more booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents, and so on who want to see this manuscript become a book! Thank the mock cover artists any chance I get!

Any cautionary advice for writers tempted to contact illustrators to create art for their own work?

Another great question. I felt comfortable enough to do it for two reasons: one, I had gotten such positive feedback from editors and two, the illustrators knew me already. If both of these factors had not been the case, I would not have pursued this idea. In exchange I did offer the artists what I could, which was admittedly not as much as they deserved, but I wanted to be as fair I could; also, for whatever it’s worth, in promoting my experiment, I’m promoting the holy heck out of their work! My wife had an idea I love: if the book is to be published, include all the mock covers as endpapers (if the terms, whatever they end up being, are acceptable, of course!).

You are a tireless pro at promoting your published books through on-site sales, school visits, speaking engagements, social networking, and impressive blog content.  Before a manuscript is sold, however, what other ways do you market yourself and manuscripts to editors?

I think you covered it! But before all that, I do what all we writers strive for: find a good, fresh story and try to tell it well.

I can add that before this Thirty Minutes Over Oregon experiment, all my pitches were more traditional—sending a selective group of editors a (private!) letter summarizing the story and the marketing points. Of course, that approach has worked for generations—and I hope this new one will work, too!




  • (apologies for the inconsistent formatting. Blogger isn’t cooperating)

In HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES (Tundra Books, 2011), author/illustrator team Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby (who happen to be married, too) offer a gloriously illustrated and well- researched introduction to the earliest domestication of horses. Each of the chosen forty-three breeds highlighted in the book are introduced with their respective provenance, physical characteristics, and unique historical connection with people. Artistically, every sinewy line, muscle, and expression comes to life in vivid detail specific to each breed. And there’s enough informational substance to the text to satisfy horse lovers of all ages.

I’m thrilled to spotlight this adorable and oh-so-nice husband/wife team. Shelley and Jeff answered these questions individually, choosing not to read each other’s responses until after I had received them. I’ve chosen not to edit or combine answers because I think their different voices give a broader peek into their working relationship.


Miniature horses coming to the book launch
Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby


What was your inspiration for writing HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES?
SAJ  Our first collaborative book, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds had just come out and was getting great reviews. One review said that they hoped we’d write more books on dogs, cats and horses. Our daughter was itty bitty at the time but already obsessed with horses. She made the clicking noise of horse hooves before she could even talk. So we thought horses would be fun to work on. Plus, they seemed a natural progression after dogs, considering the number of breeds of horses, their variety, and their popularity with children. 
JC  Well, it’s a bit of a sequel, or a companion, to our runaway, chart-topping hit, LITTLE LIONS, BULL BAITERS & HUNTING HOUNDS: A HISTORY OF DOG BREEDS. We wanted to do a second dog book since we only covered about 50 of the over 400 breeds out there and hadn’t included some very popular breeds such as the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Schnauzer. However, our publisher, Tundra, wanted us to branch out, and horses made the most sense because of their varied appearances and jobs. Next, they want a history of cat breeds!


Writing and illustrating are generally solitary endeavors. How did your collaborative process work with regards to dividing specific tasks?
SAJ  Everyone always asks this but it’s so hard to give a concrete answer. A lot of it depended on who had time to do what, who was interested or motivated at a given time, and what needed to be done. As far as process, we brainstormed and critiqued together at every stage. But as far as research, writing, revising and painting, we tried to divide that up evenly and we worked individually. 


JC  With both writing and illustrating we start with similar approaches. First we use a dart board and then proceed to rock-paper-scissors. We actually brainstormed ideas and then created our outline and storyboards together. Then we divvied up the research. For writing, we would each work on separate breeds to begin with but would both edit them down together. For the intro material, we would both work on it together since the info wasn’t as straight forward. Shelley tended to be the driving force with the writing, since she is better at writing, organizing, and communicating.


JC  As far as the art goes, once we both figured out what the concept was for each breed in the storyboards, I tended to be the one who took those to the tight sketch phase, since my strong suit is drawing from my head. Shelley did plenty of sketching too. By the time our drawings were approved by Tundra, we had just a few months to crank out over a hundred paintings. With the tight deadline, our painting process became very organic. Some illustrations we would complete individually, others we worked on together. I might do the background and Shelley would do the foreground or she might start a painting and I would finish it.  
 As you mention in the book, there are over two hundred breeds of horses around the world. How did you narrow it down to the forty-three breeds you feature?
SAJ   It was so hard! Just like dog breeds, even horse breeds that are closely related have their own special quirks and interesting facts. If you look at the books we used for reference, you’ll see that just about every breed had the corner turned down at one point. Unlike dog breeds, which we knew quite a bit about going into that project, we were really starting at square one with horses. So every new breed I read about was my favorite and just HAD to be included! In the end, we focused on showing as big of a variety as we could—as far as size, function, geographic origin and popularity. We cut any that seemed similar to another and tried really hard to pare it down so that we could have as many double page spreads for the art as possible. 
JC  We wanted to include as broad a variety of
breeds as possible. This meant finding breeds that were from all over the
world, performed different jobs, had different appearances, and were a variety
of rare and common breeds. We also wanted horses that had interesting
histories. As with our dog book, this criteria meant we had to leave out some
pretty common breeds such as the Morgan and the Suffolk Punch.
The book is cleverly divided into
breed categories:  Rapid Transit, Military Advantage, Horsepower, Equine
Entertainment, Feral Horses.  Did you approach research with this
organization already in place, or did the different themes evolve?

SAJ  The standard book about horses divides breeds
by size or by temperament: heavy horses, light horses and ponies, OR hot
bloods, warm bloods and cold bloods.
But horses don’t
really fit neatly into those categories. For example, a pony is defined as a
horse that measures under 14.2 hands high. Many pony breeds were bred in harsh
climates with inadequate nutrition and will actually grow to horse height when
fed a nutritious diet. Many cultures find it insulting to call their native
horses “ponies” and you’ll read that even though a specific horse is small it
is always called a “horse” in its native land. This didn’t seem like a good
system. Neither did the blood-system. Plus, we wanted to focus on the horses’
origins, so it seemed natural to separate them according to their first uses. The
five distinct categories that we ended up with evolved as we researched. We
hoped that by dividing them this way, readers could observe how certain
features are suited to particular jobs. We still mention the standard ways of
dividing horses so that readers will be familiar with those concepts, too.



They evolved. We knew we wanted to divide the book
into several categories, like we did with Little Lions, but we had to do our
research to figure out how to classify the breeds.



Were there other specific breeds
with particularly interesting history that you wish could have been included?
Wanna share here?


SAJ  A couple years ago I mentioned to our
daughter Harper that unicorns aren’t real and she cried like nobody’s business.
I now know what it feels like to break a child’s heart. It would seem that she
has forgotten that nasty conversation because she keeps asking where the
Unicorn and Pegasus are in our book. I’m not telling her again. So if there’s a
follow up book, those two “breeds” might be in there.
Other (real) breeds that I’d like to include are the Akhal-Teke, because it is
such an influential breed, and the Suffolk Punch, because I’m a sucker for
draught horses and it’s got a cool name. Speaking of draught horses, I love
those gentle giants: Ardennais, Boulonnais, and Comtois are stunning and we
didn’t include any of them! You know the primary reason draught breeds are so
docile is that they eat the same food as lighter horses but have to support so
much larger body mass? I’m also really drawn to the native breeds that are
shaped by their rugged conditions such as the Sumba from Indonesia. And I think
some of the newer breeds like the beautiful gaited Rocky Mountain Horse, which
is, oddly enough, not from THE Rocky Mountains but rather used in rocky
mountains, are really interesting. Oh, and there’s the Haflinger…can you
believe we didn’t include them? Oh, now you’ve gotten me started again, Donna!

JC  The Pegasus and the unicorn.


What was your general path and
timeline to publication?


SAJ  In July 2008 we first asked our agent his
thoughts on the possibility of a horse companion to our history of dog breeds
book. Once we convinced him that horses did have as much diversity and
popularity as dogs, he looked into our publisher’s current list and advised us
on how to proceed. We started by researching using mainly encyclopedic books
about horses to find out the history and scope of domestic horses. We spent several
months choosing breeds and deciding how to organize the book. We sent our
publisher, Tundra Books, an outline and cover letter in February 2009 and
within a few days they wrote back to say that they would be happy to work with
us again. (They had been hoping we’d do a book on cats next, but we wanted to
focus more on the “working with humans” aspect and let’s face it, most cats
work exclusively for themselves!) We started researching right away, but didn’t
get our contract till June 2009. These things take time! December 2009 we
turned in the final manuscript. We sent in our first round of sketches in May
2010 (I’m looking back at emails for the dates, lest you think I am some sort
of savant!) June 15th an editor was finally assigned our manuscript
and all of the fact-checking and editing began! By the end of July, the
manuscript was finished and we were back working on art. Final art was
delivered at the end of January 2011. Phew! Two and a half years sounds like a
lot of time, but when you consider that much of it was spent waiting for
approval, working on other projects, raising a child and moving to a new state,
it’s not nearly long enough!

JC  We had six months to write the book. Due to
upheaval at the publisher, it took them months to edit our manuscript and we
were chomping at the bit to get started on the sketches. We wanted to be done
with edits before proceeding on to the sketches and the deadline for the
finished book was rapidly approaching. We had another six to illustrate it and
ended up getting another month extension.
Tell us a bit about your research
process for this book?

SAJ Research was loads
of fun! At the time we started, we lived in Castle Rock, Colorado, right near
the county fairgrounds. We spent lots of afternoons at different horse events:
barrel racing, vaulting, cutting—learning about the events themselves but also
talking to owners, learning about the breeds and photographing horses in
action. We went to every rodeo we could find. And our biggest and most
productive research trip was to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. They have
lots of breeds there that are included in the book, and a fantastic “parade of
breeds” where we got to see a variety of breeds side by side and in traditional
costume. The Horse Park is also home to the Smithsonian’s International Museum
of the Horse, where tons of information is to be found. They also house equine
related objects such as period carriages, farm equipment and tack. We took lots
of notes and photos. The Horse Park and Museum staff was so friendly and
helpful—it was an amazing trip. We also stayed in a cottage on a working farm
and got to meet and photograph horses there. We used a lot of books and
internet resources as well, but nothing compares to meeting your subjects in
the flesh! While in Kentucky, Jeff decided his dream horse was a Trakehner,
Harper fell in love with an Appaloosa and I, well, my favorite depends what horse
I’m looking at, at the moment.

JC  Unlike with the dog book, we knew very little
about horses to start with. We had to do loads of reading just to have a basic
understanding of horses. Our research was mainly book-based, but we did talk to
several horse owners and riders. At the time, we were living in Castle Rock, CO
and the county fairgrounds were just down the road from us. We spent a lot of
time there watching horse events, taking pictures and asking questions. Our
four year old daughter, who is a horse fanatic, loved going with us. In the
end, also, unlike the dog book, I feel like we just barely scratched the
surface of the equine world. There is so much to know about horses and their
behavior, gear, sports, and care.



What medium did you employ for the
artwork? How long was the illustration process?

SAJ We used acrylic on
paper for most everything except the maps, which are digital. For our
paintings, we used technology to expedite the process at many stages, such as
scanning sketches and printing them out onto watercolor paper rather than the
painstaking work of transferring them. It took about a year to do all the
artwork. Again, we didn’t work on it constantly, but there are over 100
illustrations in the book.

JC  We used our giant Epson 4800 printer to print
the sketches onto watercolor paper made for that printer. Then we sealed the
paper and drawing with acrylic matte medium and used acrylic paints to complete
the illustration. It took us eight? months for the art.


You’ve done a wonderful job of
differentiating the various horse breeds with your illustrations. What did you
find most challenging about the illustration process for this book?


SAJ  I’m so relieved that you—a horse person—think
so! The most challenging thing was definitely being able to see the differences
in the horses and translating that into the art. It’s so often said that
learning how to draw is really learning how to see and I never felt it more
than on this project. Horses were new to us and their differences can sometimes
be subtle to the layman (or woman). We’re hoping to not get mail from horse
fanatics saying, “That jibbah isn’t pronounced enough!” We did our best!

JC  The horses themselves were very difficult.
They were very hard to render accurately, especially since we were trying to
distinguish the different breeds. Add to that, trying to get them in dynamic
poses, fit them in the page with riders or vehicles, and get their gear right,
and they amounted to a very challenging problem.
The reverse of the book jacket is
fully illustrated as a poster. Whose idea was that?

SAJ  That was someone at Tundra, either our editor
or a designer, not really sure. They did the same on the dog breeds book and it
was a happy surprise for us. Although, I do get a little stressed thinking about
all the sticky hands grabbing our naked books because the jacket is hanging on
the wall!


JC  Tundra’s. They did the same for our previous
book and it was a complete surprise. We knew it was coming this time, but
didn’t know what image they would use.


How would you describe your
individual artistic styles, and strengths?  What’s your secret for
blending them so seamlessly?

SAJ  We’ve had mostly the same training (teachers
and schools) and both paint naturalistically, so it isn’t too challenging to
keep the art looking consistent. The main difference between us is that Jeff is
better at composing from his imagination and I’m more reliant on reference.
Because of the time constraints of creating the book, I painted things that we
had reference for and Jeff more of the things that needed some imagination. Honestly,
I look at the paintings and on many I can’t remember what parts I did.

JC  We both work fairly naturalistically and
narratively. Shelley likes to mix her media though, while I stick with my
paints. We both went to the same art schools, so our styles are kind of
similar. We also like to paint a lot of the same subjects. Because there is so
much overlap in our art, it’s pretty easy to blend the two styles.




Finally, are there domestic or professional
challenges to collaborating with your spouse? Survival tips?

SAJ  Oy! There are so many challenges! I remember
the early days when it was fun to pull all nighters together. We listened to
late night talk shows while we helped each other out with 48 hour deadlines.
Now we’re getting older and I like to sleep at night. Our daughter wants to
play horses all day every day! Yes, that’s partly our fault. Point is, just
working from home is hard, setting boundaries between professional and personal
lives. Two people working from home is harder. But working from home together
with a kiddo and finding time to both sit down—uninterrupted—and focus on a
project…extra super duper hard! We might have to put our collaborations on hold
until a little someone starts school, or better yet, goes off to college. We’ve
even talked about the possibility of dividing the work up more. For example,
planning together but then I write and he illustrates. We’ll see…
Survival tips? You’ve
got to approach it professionally. Schedule time to meet and discuss—and stick
to it! Don’t take on more than you know you can both handle.


   JC  The main challenges we face are time related.
How much time do we dedicate to our joint projects and how much to our own
individual pursuits. Who’s turn is it to take time out to play horses with
Harper and who’s turn is it to work. On concepts and executing ideas we’re
usually on the same page and, if not, we’re pretty good at working it out. In
the end, we have produced these two amazing books together with zero


BOOK LAUNCH- OCTOBER 16, 2011 at the Writing Barn: 10202 Wommack Rd: Austin, TX
2:00pm- 4:00pm. Mini’s and Friends, a charitable organization benefiting disabled
children, will be bringing along live miniature horses to be petted.
Original art from the book will be on display, prints will be for sale,
and copies of the incredible book will be available for purchase and
signing. There will also be snacks available horsey games to play, and
Postscript:  This was a fantastic launch party. As you can see, I was a bit smitten with a particularly cute mini named Spirit.

From Picture Book to Interactive App – Lindsey Lane and SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN


Austin author, playwright, and columnist Lindsey Lane, is a multi-talented writer and one of the nicest people in the world. Today, she shares her unique experience of re-birthing a picture book as an interactive app for IPhone and IPad.
Welcome, Lindsey!
First, tell us about the SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN story. What was the original inspiration?
Thanks so much for asking. I love telling this story. My daughter Gabi was about 18 months old. I was in bed, asleep. It was early morning. Presunrise. I hear a clunk coming from Gabi’s room. Then another clunk. Then a thud. Then pad, pad, pad into my room. Then I hear her breathing by the side of the bed, looking up at the sleeping lump that I am. I imagine that she is trying to figure out how to climb up to wake me up. I think these words rolled across the movie screen in my brain, “I’ll bet my bed looks like a mountain to her. I bet I look like a giant…” And there it was: the seed of an idea. When I got up, I wrote it down. Five years later, it was a book.
SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN was originally published as a hardcover picture book (Clarion, 2003) but, like so many others, eventually went out of print. Why did you decide to bring it back to life?
I think it’s the saddest thing in the world when a book goes out of print. It’s like it’s gone to this netherworld. It exists but not in a real “order a bunch of copies for a school visit or conference” kind of way. One of my biggest surprises (and delights) as an author is doing readings and presentations to children. It’s like having a ticket to fun land. Really. I love kids. Especially the wiggly, 3-5 year old set. When I learned that SM had gone out of stock in 2008, I had thought that I would try to find a smaller publisher to print a soft cover version of the book but I was just starting graduate school at Vermont College of Fine Arts and I put the thought on hold. When I graduated two years later in July 2010, the digital world of books was starting to explode. The IPad debuted. Amazon sold more digital books than hard covers. It seemed like the perfect time to bring Snuggle Mountain back to life in an entirely new format.
How did you reclaim copyright?
I contacted Aimee Bissonette of Little, Buffalo Law (Thank you, Cynthia Leitich Smith for the recommendation) who read the rights reversion clause in my contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Fortunately, it was very standard and all I needed to do was write a letter requesting that the rights revert to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me.  Because the book had been out of stock for two years, it was pretty clear that HMH wasn’t going to put SM back in print so the letter was a formality. Aimee basically looked over my shoulder and three months later, Melissa and I received the book on a disk.

Why did you choose to reintroduce it as an iPad/iPhoneapp instead of an e-Book?
Great question. Up until very recently, ebooks didn’t format well for picture books. Ebooks are text heavy and only show one page at a time. Picture books are a marriage of art and words. Illustrators use the two-page spread to tell the story. Ebooks chop the art in half. Apps are a different matter. You can see the entire two page spread on the screen. Much more satisfying. But guess what? I just read a blog post at e is for book that Elizabeth Dulemba has formatted her picture book Lula’s Brew for the Nook. She describes it as a very easy process. So once again, the landscape is changing.
Tell us about PicPocket Books and how they approached the digital transformation of SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN?
Lynette Mattke started PicPocket Books in 2009. As a mother, she saw the trend toward mobile devices and wanted to create family friendly content. Shortly thereafter, Lynette joined forces with a group of like-minded app developers and started Moms with Apps with the specific goal of developing family friendly apps.
There are quite a few reasons why Melissa and I chose PicPocket Books. What I love about Lynette’s company is that she respects the integrity of books and chooses not to turn them into games. With apps, you can add a lot of bells and whistles and a book can quickly become more game oriented. Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing but SM is a book for 3-5 year olds. Does that age group need a lot of extra stimulation? Melissa did add some pretty sweet animations to the artwork and I added some bits of dialogue for Emma but we stayed true to the book with its beginning, middle and end, plot-based structure.
Also, PicPocket had also been already the block, so to speak, in the app world. They were an approved Apple/ITunes app developer and had done about two dozen book apps when we came along. She had a software formatting team in place. I think we appealed to her because we had a ready-made book and she appealed to us because she knew how to make the print to digital transition. It felt like a great match.
Right away, I began writing extra dialogue for Emma to say as she climbed Snuggle Mountain. Melissa got busy reformatting the artwork for the iPhone and iPad platforms and adding bits of animation to her artwork. Once our part was done, Lynette found this wonderful narrator Sylvie Ashford to read the book as well as speak Emma’s bits of dialogue. In one month’s time, I was on a Skype call with Lynette seeing the app on her desktop. My mind was effectively blown by that event for several days. The only change I suggested was the dog bark sounded too yippy for the English sheep dog in the drawing.
Is the SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN app interactive?
Yes. Melissa added in a few animations so the dog’s tail wags and and his nose sniffs. Children can also touch the screen and hear the dog snuffle and bark, the cat meow and Emma say a few words. Melissa also added eyes in the covers to highlight the faces of the two headed giant in the bed covers. Again, we kept the integrity of the book but we opened up to the some of the possibilities of this new format.
How involved was your illustrator, Melissa Iwai, in the process?
Very. I can’t thank Melissa enough for being game to take this digital leap. I think Melissa and I compliment each other very well. As soon as we got the rights back, she and I started having regular phone conversations about app developers and ePublishers. We’d make a list of things to do and then check in by email as we learned more about the process and players. When we signed with PicPocket, she jumped in doing the animating and formatting. Really. I’m so grateful that she knew what to do and could enhance her artwork for the digital format.
How are prices determined for apps? And, how are royalties handled?
I think the price point for apps is pretty standard at this point. They start at $.99 and top out at $3.99 on the iPhone. It’s a little bit more for an iPad app but not much. Lynette suggested $1.99 for the iPhone app and $2.99 for the iPad app so we would stay in line with how apps are priced.
As for royalties, Apple has a standard agreement with all their approved app developers. Apple takes 30%; Lynette, Melissa and I split the remaining 70%. Apple does their accounting quarterly and guess what? We got our first check. Yea!
Do you have any advice for authors interested in this digital medium?
If you have an out of print book and you want to ePublish it, well, it’s a bit like the wild west right now. Lots of people creating apps. Publishers creating app departments to reformat their older titles for the digital platform. Do your research. Look at apps you like and find out who did them. Query those companies. It’s a wild ride. We picked a smaller boutique app developer. It suited us.
As for writers with unpublished mss, you have to do your research. App developers are interested in unpublished work. PicPocket welcomes those queries, for instance. But the landscape changes everyday so do your research.
Also I have a bit of cautionary advice: before your app is released, check to make sure that all the ways it is supposed to work, do, in fact, work. Typos are different in the digital world. There can be a software formatting problem and if you don’t check it, well, the app gets released with a glitch and that’s a drag. Of course, the good news is updates are sent out electronically and they can be fixed in relative jiffy.
You have a new perspective on digital books. What is your overall feeling about the traditional to digital trend?
You know, I know that when books starting coming out digitally, many people were worried that books would become extinct or that children would lose the experience of sitting on their parents’ laps reading books and turning the pages. I don’t think that’s going to happen. The advent of television didn’t make theatre disappear. If anything the digital trend might make books more available to more people because the price point is lower. I still think people are going to love books but screens are here to stay so why not have good books on them?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. On October 8, Austin SCBWI is hosting a digital symposium called StoryTellingin the Digital Age at the St. Edward’sUniversity campus in Austin, Texas. I am joining a faculty of way smart folks to talk about the digital shift in storytelling and publishing. My presentation “from oop* to app” will focus on the aspect of transforming out of print picture books into apps.  It should be a great, informative conference and I think there are still some spots available.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t link to iTunes where your readers can purchase the SM iPhone app or the SM iPad app. 
Thanks so much for inviting me over to your blog, Donna and congratulations again on signing with Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary.
*out of print
     Enter to win a SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN interactive app (IPhone and IPad users only). To enter, comment on this post, include an email address or a link to an email address. Or you can email Donna directly at with “Snuggle Mountain app” in the subject line. 

     This giveaway is compliments of author Lindsey Lane. Deadline to enter: October 1, 2011.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
Blog about this giveaway
Share the link to this post on facebook
Share the link to this post on Twitter
Like Lindsey’s Facebook author page