Friday, November 16, 2012
Snowzilla: Interview with Janet Lawler
A Snowzilla-sized welcome to acclaimed picture book author, Janet Lawler! She’s here to talk about her latest book, Snowzilla. In this delightful winter tale, Cami Lou and her brother build the hugest snowman the world has ever seen. Snowzilla is a sensation, drawing tourists from near and far. But neighbors complain that Snowzilla is a giant problem. Can Cami Lou find a way to save him?
I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book. To be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment after this interview.
Janet, can you tell us what sparked the idea for Snowzilla?
In 2008 I read an online news report about an injunction issued to prevent an Anchorage, Alaska man from building a 25-foot snowman. It seemed like a sad commentary on our times. So I ruminated for several months before writing my tall tale about a giant snowman. I decided that my Snowzilla would be built by kids, and that, in spite of the big problems he causes, his story would have a happy ending.
The book is in rhyme. You make this look easy, but I know how difficult rhyme is to write. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
There is certainly an element of my writing process that is intuitive. I have been writing in rhyme since I was a little girl, and I love the way rhyme can weave a web of sounds to further a good story and enchant little ones. Over the years, I have analyzed and broken down the steps I take while writing in rhyme, and now I consciously work on creating smooth beat/rhyme patterns, and revise many times to eliminate forced rhyme, inconsistent rhythms, trite rhymes, and words that don’t “flow.” I also focus on eliminating too much description, so an illustrator will have some room for creativity, and I strive to focus on action and “fun” verbs. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “What if?” and “What else?” and try taking the story or couplet in a whole different direction that might open up new rhyme possibilities. I always read my work out loud, many times, before deciding on the best choice for a word or a line.
This book tackles a sticky issue, a community controversy, yet it remains upbeat and age-appropriate. How did you manage to pull this off? What do you see as the theme of your book?
We all can benefit by living more like kids, finding joy in the world around us (building snowmen!), and figuring out ways to get along and solve conflicts. So right from the beginning, I kept thinking, what would a kid do? I had a lot of fun having Cami Lou use modern technology, in an age-appropriate way, to send out an S.O.S (Save Our Snowman!). She doesn’t generate any negative energy or attack the nay-sayers. Her approach is all positive, solution-seeking, genuine effort. It is how we all should tackle problems and controversies.
My theme is that if you dream big and take positive action, anything is possible.
Cami Lou is a delightful, take-action kind of character. Do you see her as a role model for girls?
Yes. I definitely see Cami Lou as a role model and I hope she inspires girls (and boys) to dream, create, and most importantly, communicate. She orchestrates family cooperation to build Snowzilla. Then she encounters very big obstacles when neighbors complain and lawsuits are filed. But she reaches out and draws the entire community into a workable solution. And she doesn’t stop there—what will she dream of next?
Would you like to share a little of the book’s journey to publication?
After a few rejections on an early round of submissions, I let the story percolate a bit and went back and revised some more to start the action quicker and eliminate too much description.
In February of 2010, I decided it was a perfect time to get an editor’s attention, since the record-breaking snowfall of that winter had much of the Northeast shoveling, piling, slogging—and building snowmen! Within a few weeks, I had two publishers interested in the project at the same time! I ultimately continued discussions and accepted an offer from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. I revised a bit more with my editor that spring, and illustrator Amanda Haley started work shortly thereafter. The book released on October 2, 2012 by Amazon Children’s Publishing, which acquired Marshall Cavendish earlier this year.
You’ve published a number of other picture books, including If Kisses Were Colors and Tyrannoclaus. What draws you to writing picture books? Is there a thread that connects all your work?
The threads of nature and family bonds are woven in much of my writing. I am always inspired by the beauty of nature. I also believe that the bonds of love that tie families and friends provide a foundation for lives well lived and dreams realized. And I suppose the thread of “wonder” is there, overriding everything. Kids view so much of the world with a sense of wonder, and I still think I have that sense too, which is why I am drawn to writing picture books. I can wonder about what Christmas might be like in the time of the dinosaurs, or share the wonder of showing love to a newborn baby. And the very act of sharing picture books reinforces the bonds of which I write, and that gives me a very good feeling!
Could you tell us about what you’re working on now?
I just finished writing an early non-fiction counting book for National Geographic. Ocean Counting, which comes out next spring, features breathtaking undersea photographs by Brian Skerry. I truly had a sense of wonder as I gazed at the pictures and wrote text to describe the sea animals. I also researched and wrote interesting “Did you know?” facts to share with little readers.
I am also working on a couple of other picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel that was inspired by a family trip to Vietnam five years ago. I am enjoying the challenge of writing in a new genre (and am more than ever in awe of my colleagues who write novels).
Thank you, Janet! And thank you, kind reader, for visiting my blog. I’ll be thinking of Snowzilla on the next snowy day. And for those who would like to find out more about Janet and her books, you can visit her website at http://www.janetlawler.com/
Don’t forget, if you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy of Snowzilla, just leave a comment after this interview.