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Thanks to Rob Sanders for answering a few questions about how he wrote RUBY ROSE, OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES. You can also find out more about Rob on his website, Facebook, Twitter and his Picture This! blog for children's book writers.
Q, How did you get the idea for RUBY ROSE, OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES?
Maria Modugno (then at HarperCollins, now at Random House) had seen and liked my writing. She had been gracious to communicate at length through my agent (Rubin Pfeffer) about my writing, and characters, and the kinds of stories she would like to see. I knew Maria was looking for character-driven stories with series potential.
I cast about for characters, trying to find one who was fresh and new, who had an endearing personality, and who possessed a unique character trait. I tried lots of characters and wrote lots of stories. But nothing was gelling for me, or ringing my agent’s bell. Then I spent a week at the beach with my sister, my nephew and niece-in-law, my great niece, Madi (then four), and twins Jack and Libby (who were babies at that time). Also staying with us was the teenage daughter of a family friend who was attending a nearby ballet camp. Every day my sister took Emma to and from dance lessons. Madi immediately found a best friend in Emma.
When Emma stretched, Madi stretched. When Emma soaked her feet, Madi needed to do the same. When Emma spun and practiced ballet positions, Madi was her mini-shadow. Madi danced her way through her days at the beach. That week, anything that happened—good or bad—was met by a dance from Madi. It was her answer to all of life.
Before the weekend was over, I was developing the character who would become Ruby Rose. It was summer, and the back-to-school books were on display at area bookstores, so I decided to place my new character in a story where she would dance her way through her first day at school. And things began to gel.
Q. How did the first RUBY ROSE book get published?
My agent and I sent the manuscript back and forth a couple of times, nuancing things a bit, then he sent it off to Maria. She took it to acquisitions right away, and the two-book deal was sealed in a few weeks.
HarperCollins wasn’t wowed by whatever character name I had at the time (and evidently I have erased it from my memory), so a long process of developing a name began. Various departments at HarperCollins, Rubin, Maria, and I played around with many names until we came up with Ruby Rose. Simultaneously, the search for an illustrator had begun. Of course, I wasn’t involved in that process, so Debbie can tell more about it, but I remember hearing that the publisher “auditioned” fifty-ish illustrators before finding the perfect match. (And Debbie Ohi IS the perfect match!)
Sadly, Maria moved from HarperCollins to Random House, and I was depressed wondering what would happen to my baby. Not to worry! Margaret Anastas took over the Ruby Rose project and has taken care of Ruby like her own baby.
We did have some delays in schedule, a variety of release date changes, and even a wee title change—all stuff normal in the industry (but new to me). Good things came out of each delay or change. In the end, it’s all worked together to make a great picture book.
Q. How long did it take you to write the first RUBY ROSE book?
I had the first draft of RUBY ROSE written and sent off to Rubin within a week or two. Because I had spent so much time developing other characters and other stories, this one flowed easily.
After we sent the manuscript off to HarperCollins, Rubin encouraged me to “explore the world of Ruby Rose” and I began writing story after story about her, month after month. I probably have thirty stories now.
Most of them won’t ever see the light of day, but they all helped me discover more about this character what makes her tick. Through that exploration I landed on what will be the second book about Ruby: RUBY ROSE—BIG BRAVOS!
Q. What was the editing process like?
Maria and I handled all of our edits over the phone. That’s her style/approach, and it suits me well. We read through the manuscript, noted lines that were bumpy, places where text could be tighten, and so on. There wasn’t a lot of editing to do, but we made some changes during those phone calls, and I emailed others to Maria afterwards.
Margaret and I have communicated almost entirely through email—which suits me well, too. She sends lists of questions and suggested changes. Again, these have not been major, earthshattering things, but changes that polish what’s there, and add that last bit of zing and zest to the manuscript.
During the process, I emailed Margaret with the changes I liked and alternate suggestions. Once we saw the pages of the book with art in place, we were able to edit again looking for places where the art was doing the work and words weren’t needed. So again, we went through a round of emails and tightened the manuscript.
When the decision was made to change the title of the book to make it more school oriented, Margaret let me know immediately, and enthusiastically took my suggestion to the HarperCollins folks. And that’s the title we’re using: RUBY ROSE—OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES.
You have to realize that I love revision, so the entire process of working with my editors has been wonderful for me.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
My advice for young writers (and for older writers who are just starting out) is to write. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s the thing I see most new writers not doing. Many writers get hung up on one story and write and rewrite and rewrite it. You’ve got to write, and write a lot. The other pitfall new writers fall into is spending too much time reading about writing, and blogging about writing, and Facebooking about writing. Learning is good. Social media is valuable. But you have to write.
If I hadn’t been experimenting with characters and stories I never would have been ready and able to write RUBY ROSE—OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES.
If I hadn’t explored “the world of Ruby Rose” and wrote all those stories, I never would have found the perfect second story for this character. So write. And write some more. Then write even more.
Try different formats. Try different POVs.
If you think you can only rhyme, try prose.
If you think you only write animal stories, write one with kid characters.
Stretch yourself, push yourself, and above all . . . write.
And one more thing—read! Don’t look for inspiration in the books you were read when you were little, or the ones you read to your kids, or the ones you remember from school.
Read picture books being released recently. I like to go to the book store and spend an afternoon reading only the picture books with covers facing out to the public. These are the books that are selling, get great reviews, or that the bookseller is highlighting for some other reason. Are they all great books? No. But I can learn from all of them.
So read, read, read and while you’re at the bookstore, buy a picture book or two and help out your fellow picture book authors!