April 4, 2011

A Journey of Contrasts: Guest Post by Deborah Underwood

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that excellent little video of Ella losing her mind with joy over The Loud Book! We have read it many times since then and sometimes I recite little parts of it from memory to her in order to get her to laugh.

So, I'm thrilled to host author Deborah Underwood on her blog tour promoting The Loud Book! which comes out today. I love her post about the difference in writing the Quiet Book and then the Loud Book.

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A Journey of Contrasts

To an outside observer, THE QUIET BOOK and THE LOUD BOOK! must look pretty similar. Both are concept books, both have the same format, and both have brilliant illustrations by Renata Liwska.

But my experience writing them was as different as...well, loud and quiet.

THE QUIET BOOK was inspired by a classical guitar concert. As I waited for the performance to begin, I noticed several types of quiet. During the concert, I mulled. Did quiet have picture book potential?

I went home and wrote draft after draft, on my own leisurely timetable. After I got the manuscript into good shape, I sent it around. And got rejection after rejection.

I’d known from the beginning that writing a quiet book was a leap of faith, since “too quiet” is a common rejection-letter line. Eventually I started to lose hope.

But finally, many months later, I got a phone call from Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin. She wanted to publish the book. Hooray!

Later Kate asked if I was okay with using animals instead of kids in the illustrations. This required a mental adjustment, but I agreed (frankly, at that point I would have agreed to using protozoans instead of kids). Now it’s hard to believe I originally intended the characters to be kids.

Writing THE LOUD BOOK! couldn’t have been more different. Long before THE QUIET BOOK came out, Kate asked if I’d be interested in writing a loud book, and of course I said yes.

However.

What I thought she’d meant was, “Would you be interested in writing a loud book maybe sometime next year after the first book comes out and we see how it does?” When she wrote a few weeks later to check on my progress, I realized she’d actually meant, “Would you be interested in writing a loud book right now?”

I accelerated my writing process. Substantially.

Caffeine overdoses aside, it was a huge luxury to draft a book knowing in advance that an editor was interested, and that the plan was for Renata to do the illustrations again. It felt a bit like I imagine TV series writing feels: you know the characters, you know the setting, you know how things work. Instead of stepping off a cliff into the unknown, you’re returning to a cozy world you love.

But it wasn’t all cozy. I felt a lot of (self-generated) pressure. It was important to me that LOUD live up to QUIET. There’s nothing worse than a sequel that disappoints.

Sitting side by side on my shelf, THE QUIET BOOK and THE LOUD BOOK! look like what they’re intended to be: companion volumes. But to me, they represent different messages. THE QUIET BOOK means don’t lose faith. THE LOUD BOOK! means never slack off; keep trying to improve.

However, these writing experiences do have one thing in common: I wouldn’t trade either for the world.

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Also, the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is giving away an original piece of art by the illustrator of both books, not to mention 25 copies of The Loud Book. It's an easy entry - just fill in your name, email address, and address. Check it out if you're interested.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent.
    Thoroughly enjoyed this post, and LOVED watching Ella enjoy the book.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading about the writing experience, and, as a confirmed bookaholic (at least children's bookaholic) and having heard The Loud Book read, am looking forward to checking out The Quiet Book. I'm pretty sure I need to add both to my book collection.

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  3. How wonderful to hear from the author! I don't know where I was when you posted that video, but I just watched it for the first time and it made mine and Noah's day entirely, we were both laughing hysterically. I am going to need both those books!

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  4. Great piece. I love the bit about being inspired by a classical guitar concert, as my son is a classical guitarist.

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  5. What a great GuestPost!!! I think Loud is coming in my JLG order soon! I will think of Ella everytime I read it to my kiddos! It will make me smile! xoxo

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  6. I love love love these two books! I'm so glad for this interview.

    I also must say that, as an artist and children's book connoisseur, I am very inspired by Renata Liwska's illustrations. So soft and beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing!

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