137 Rejections, Perseverance and More: Advice From Debut Picture Book Author Stephanie Lucianovic (THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL, Sterling Children’s)
Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic has dug many holes, cried lots of tears, and laid an entire garden’s worth of flowers on small and not-so-small graves. And she has never ever dug her Something Dead up. She the author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. The End of Something Wonderful is her debut picture book. Stephanie lives in Menlo Park, CA, with her two sons, two cats, and one husband. You can find out more about Stephanie at Grubreport.com, on Twitter at @grubreport and on Instagram at @grubreport.
About THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL: Written by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos, published by Sterling Children’s (Sept.10, 2019). Children love their pets very much—and when the animals die, that loss can be hard to process. The End of Something Wonderful helps kids handle their feelings when they’re hurting and can’t find all the right words. In a warm, understanding, sometimes funny way, it guides children as they plan a backyard funeral to say goodbye, from choosing a box and a burial spot to giving a eulogy and wiping away tears. Most of all, it reassures them that it’s not the end of everything . . . and that Something Wonderful can always happen again.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
That right there is a wooden spoon signed by the renowned Jacques Pepin. I also have a signed glass saucepan lid which my husband has safely tucked away to make sure nothing ever happens to it. Some years back, way before I even thought I’d be a children’s author, I was a food writer and editor in San Francisco. During that time, I had the opportunity to work in the back kitchen of one of Jacques’ cooking shows, Fast Food My Way. It was one of the most intense, exhilarating, and exhausting things I’ve ever done.
Every morning, Chef Pepin would come into the kitchen, have his coffee with us, and go over the shot list recipes for the day. We got to ask him questions about how he wanted things prepared and, more often than not, Chef would pick up one of our knives and demonstrate just how he wanted something prepped. Basically, ever morning was an intimate cooking lesson from one of the most celebrated chefs of our time. Apart from everything else he has done, the man was personal chef to Charles de Gaulle and has cooked for President Obama!
I had long been a huge Jacques Pepin fan — dating back to me watching his cooking show with Julia Child in Boston — so this was a tremendous experience to have and it is one I will always treasure. It’s also apt that my “desk,” such as it is, is actually a freestanding countertop in my kitchen. Underneath are shelves that house all of our plates and bowls, but the top has been completely given over to my jobs as author and mom.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
The rough, painful, horrible bits that you encounter on your journey are the exact same things that will get you to the top of the mountain.
So, this advice comes by way of my favorite NBA player, Andre Iguodala, who said, “Can’t climb a mountain if it’s smooth” when the Golden State Warriors were going through a tough time. He said he was quoting Spice Adams, a former football player for the San Francisco 49ers. But when I looked up this quote, I also found that Aretha Franklin said something similar to Ebony magazine in 1964: “It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb; the smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang onto.” (It actually looks like the origins of this quote go way back and might in fact be unknown, but I had never heard it before.)
However, after hearing Andre say it, its profundity hit me hard. Like, you really can’t climb a mountain if it’s smooth. If you try to climb the side where everything seems smooth and easy and less painful or challenging, you’ll just slide back to the bottom without achieving anything and without learning anything.
I’m not leaning into the outdated trope that says authors must suffer, suffer, SUFFER! to be successful, but try to look at the tough spots as vital hand and footholds on your climb. The rejections, the crappy writing days, the bad news, the comparison to other writers — they happen to all of us. Don’t let them trip you up to the extent that they prevent you from getting where you want to go. Instead, realize that climbing over the rough spots and continuing upward and onward builds strength you will use in the future and that is an achievement on its own.
I got 137 rejections before I got my offer from Sterling for THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL. Every single one of those rejections got me to where I needed to go. They got me to a published book.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
I’m excited to return to LA SCBWI in early August. I went three years ago — when I met you! — and it was my first SCBWI conference ever. It was wonderful and inspiring, but it was also completely overwhelming. I didn’t have an agent back then and was sort of terrified and confused and desperate. But now I have an agent and books coming out so I think this one will feel very different. More chill.
I’m also equal parts terrified and excited about my The End Of Something Wonderful book launch coming up on Sept 21st, 2019 at Kepler’s in Menlo Park. Finally, I’m excited to finally be able to talk about my first middle grade novel which is being published by Clarion in 2021. It’s called The League of Picky Eaters and I can’t wait to introduce the world to it.
About the above image, Stephanie wrote: “A few years ago you took a found object I tweeted at you and turned it into something amazing. It was my avatar for a long time (and probably will be again) and I believe your kindness and generosity in creating that for me brought me luck. I got my agent very soon after.”
For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.