I'm author ELLE STRAUSS and welcome to my website!
I write fun, lower Young Adult (teen) fiction to do with whimsical things like time-travel, fairies and merfolk.
When my serious side peeks out, she's called LEE STRAUSS. She likes to write upper YA about real things that have happened in the past, or made up things that could quite possibly happen in the future.
This blog is about books, mine and other fab authors', but occasionally I'll share about other topics.
Thanks for dropping by!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Picture Book Author Interview - Samantha R. Vamos!
Samantha R. Vamos, a very talented picture book author, is joining us today to give a little insight of what publishing picture books has been like for her.
ES: Tell us a little about your books. What inspired you to write them?
SV: My bilingual children’s picture book, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking, 2009, illustrated by Santiago Cohen) describes all the things that one family does to welcome a new child into the world. The story evokes the warmth and community of la familia through the acts of each member – mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, and grandfather, as well as the family puppy. Spanish words are woven throughout the English text, and both the context and illustrations clarify the meaning of the Spanish words. There is also a colorful glossary at the end of the book.
The inspiration for Before You Were Here, Mi Amor came from the first pregnancy of my younger sister. My family was very excited about the first grandchild to come and everyone began thinking about things to do to prepare for the baby’s birth. I recalled the anticipation I felt before my sister was born. I often asked my mother when my sister would be here, and when she would be old enough to play with me. With those thoughts and memories, I began writing. My book is an outgrowth of that experience. Of course, my nephew took a mere 9 months to be born and my book took almost 11 years!
In The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge Publishing, February 2011, illustrated by Rafael López), a “The House That Jack Built” styled cumulative tale, Spanish words, which are woven throughout the English text, repeat as the story builds. Five different farm animals (goat, cow, duck, donkey, and chicken) and their farmer each contribute ingredients to a pot (the “cazuela”) stirred by the farm maiden. Together, they create a surprise recipe. A glossary with pronunciation and recipe are included.
I was making pancakes the morning that the idea for The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred popped into my head. Missing two ingredients, I laughed, imagining borrowing a cup of milk from a cow. A few minutes later, I put down my utensils and began writing. I never finished the pancakes, but I did manage to write a first draft of my story!
ES: Have you always wanted to write? When did it become serious?
SV: My desire to write grew as I did and publishing my stories truly became a dream I held for many years. I credit my mom with planting the idea. She typed a story I “wrote” when I was three years old. She neither corrected my grammar nor altered the words I selected. It’s not exactly “publishable” material! It did, however, help create a sense of pride and accomplishment. For years, I felt proud about having created a story of my own. Later, as an older child and teen, I occasionally wrote – a radio show script for a contest, poems (definitely not my strength!), plays (a play I wrote in high school was entered in a contest) and a short story that I used for a few college essays. Publishing an article in The Washington Post while in high school was really the “Aha!” moment that hooked me on writing. Later, writing a chapter book (I still revise it and hope to show it to my agent someday soon) during a college summer confirmed that becoming a writer would be a dream. I became far more serious about writing after I became a lawyer. I wrote and submitted manuscripts in my spare time.
ES: What pulled you to writing picture books verses Middle Grade or YA?
SV: I have always loved children’s picture books. Long before I had a child, I found myself drawn to picture books. I have a running (and lengthy) list of favorites that I think are exceptionally well done in terms of text and illustrations (for example, “One Hungry Monster,” “Dinner at the Panda Palace,” “Counting Crocodiles,” “Agent A to Agent Z,” “While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat” and so many more). I was really inspired by some of these books. I am a great fan of middle grade and young adult, but I tend to think in terms of picture book length and story arc.
ES: Do you illustrate as well? If not, what’s it like to work with another person on your book?
SV: I am certain that none of my manuscripts would evolve into published books if I was submitting illustrations to accompany them! As for working with another person on my book, it’s incredibly exciting. Receiving the illustrations – which typically arrive later in the process – is like receiving a present. If I have not seen any prior illustrations, I don’t know what to expect. It’s really interesting to see how another person interprets your text. With Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, I saw Santiago Cohen’s black and white line illustrations before seeing color versions so I had a sense of his style, design, and intention for the book. I was wowed when I saw the vibrant colors. With The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, Susan Sherman, Charlesbridge’s Art Director, sent me three final pages of Rafael López’s work. I had no idea Rafael was that far along and I was stunned by his work. He paints on wood panels and you can see the grain. His work is magical. I feel really blessed with respect to both of my illustrators. They are terrifically talented and both are remarkably humble.
ES: Can you walk us through what it looks like to publish a picture book? Is it the same process as novel? (i.e.: query, agent, sale, etc?)
SV: Sure. First, I submit my manuscript to my agent (Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency). She may have questions about the story and (even more likely) she will offer constructive criticism, both of which typically prompt some rewriting on my part. When she’s happy with the condition of a manuscript, she moves forward with shopping it. She generates a list of publishers and shares that with me.
In terms of query, I’ve found that it’s really helpful for me to develop a concise description of each manuscript. I work on that language with the expectation that I will use it for promotion purposes as well as for submission to my agent. Jen may choose to use that language as part of her submission to editors. Also, if I think there is a unique marketing aspect to the manuscript, I share that with Jen in case she finds that information useful in her pitch.
As responses from publishers come in, Jen shares those with me (and, of course, those replies can range from amazing to inspiring to downright depressing and everything in between – it’s so true that you have to have a thick skin in this business). Thus far, in my experience, if the manuscript is moving in the right direction, the first sign is some indication that the manuscript is going to be discussed at either an acquisitions meeting, or with other members of a publishing house (for example, Marketing, Art, and/or the house’s publisher). Once an offer has been made, Jen shares that news (a/k/a “the best news”) with me.
ES: What are the time frames? (query to agent, agent to sale, sale to publication)
SV: Let’s see – query to agent is quick as Jen and I communicate by email (it’s so wonderful to avoid snail mail for this process).
Time frame for agent to sale really varies depending on the editor and publishing house receiving the manuscript. I had a manuscript out on submission last year that was with one house for over three months. The editor wanted to buy it and had even figured out which illustrator to partner with, but ultimately, the publisher of the house declined. It’s one of my all-time favorite manuscripts so I hope it finds a home.
As for sale to publication, for Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, it was about three years. For The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, the time frame is approximately four years. With my picture book contracts, I have received half of the advance upon contract execution, and the remaining half upon completion of the manuscript (to the editor’s satisfaction). That’s only a small part of the ultimate time frame, however, because the illustrator’s schedule has to be taken into consideration. Rafael López was busy (yet well worth the wait) when he agreed to illustrate my manuscript. His paintings for “Book Fiesta” (Rayo/HarperCollins) by Pat Mora recently won the ALA’s 2010 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award.
ES: Are you working on anything new?
SV: I’m presently working on a manuscript I initially wrote twelve years ago. It’s a novel and it’s my favorite story I’ve written. Recently, I sent my agent a children’s manuscript I originally wrote fifteen years ago. If I know anything about my writing, it’s that it needs time to marinate (so it’s important that I write a lot to continue to improve and have manuscripts on which to work). The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred is really thus far the only exception to my marinating rule – I wrote it and my agent had very few comments and then sold it not too long after.
ES: What do you do when you’re not writing?
SV: I write when I can. My favorite title in the world is “Mom.” I love exploring the world with my son and through his eyes. I enjoy reading, movies, and traveling. I am planning to get back into skiing this winter as we live about 45 minutes from the mountains here in Washington and it’s an activity my family enjoys. I’m a “True Blood” and “Weeds” fan. I love shooting photos and I’m a dog nut.
ES: Where do you see yourself in five years?
VS: Hmm. I know this answer will sound mundane, but I truly hope that my family and I are settled into a great routine and are very happy and healthy. We sold our home in Chicago, Illinois three years ago and moved to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve moved around a bit and I’m ready to be settled – with a great dog, of course! We have a mischievous cat that could use some animal companionship. I have many dreams for the future. Without boring you, I’ll say that one great dream is that my novel will have been published and a great success, and I’m writing and publishing my work.
Thanks so much for the interview, Elle. It was fun and I’m grateful for the opportunity.