This month I’m delighted to share Penny Parker Klostermann’s gorgeous first picture book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (releases Aug. 4, 2015 from Random House). I adore this book! It’s clever, funny, and the colorful, charming illustrations of the hungry dragon are full of good humor as well.
I’m always fascinated to hear how a picture book author landed his or her first book contract, so I asked Penny for the “inside scoop” on her new book and she graciously answered a few questions below.
1. As writers, we’re always on the look out for new, great story ideas. Where did your idea for There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight come from?
I had it in my mind to try a rewrite of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly because I love a great cumulative tale. I tried out many main characters but none were cutting it. So I headed over to Tara Lazar’s (of PiBoIdMo fame!) website and opened her list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. Dragons were on that list. I thought the perfect thing for a dragon to swallow would be a knight. From there I thought of a knight’s life and what items would logically follow the knight if a dragon happened to be on a swallowing spree. I knew, too, that I wanted a twist or two. I had no idea what the twist/s would be but I think my dragon knew all along. He has great pacing and he just seemed to know when readers might tire of his swallowing spree and need a change. He spoke up and the rest of the story just fell into place.
2. Were there any special writing challenges in writing to the pre-established “Swallowed the Fly” pattern?
When I first thought of doing this, I read every rewrite I could lay my hands on. I read over twenty-five rewrites. There were a few that stood out. All of the rewrites had the MC swallowing a list of items, of course, but those that stood out gave a reason for each item the MC swallowed. Having a reason for each item swallowed made the story more interesting and fun. I decided I definitely wanted to write mine that way. That was challenging but worth the extra time. Another special challenge when writing to a pre-established pattern is finding a way to make your story stand out. The pattern is a rule of sorts. What could I do to follow the pattern yet break the rule in a unique way? What could I do that hadn’t been done? I did this with my ending. As far as I know, there is not another “swallowed the fly” rewrite with an ending like mine.
3. What was the hardest part of creating this story?
The hardest part was revising per my editor’s comments. Maria Modugno is my editor and I want to be clear that she is not the one that made this hard. She has been delightful to work with. I’m the one that made this hard. This is my first book. I’d never revised for an editor. Even though she was interested in my story, I knew I had to nail my revisions if I wanted her to acquire my book. That was nerve wracking. But eventually I calmed myself down and took some advice I’d read on many blogs. Don’t hurry. Editors would rather have you take your time and get it right. Also my agent, Tricia Lawrence, was extremely helpful as I battled nerves. She was ready to give me space or brainstorm with me or do whatever I needed.
4. Were there any interesting “happenings” along your writing/publication journey of this book that you think might be helpful to other picture book writers?
Yes. My interesting “happening” builds on my answer to question #3 in reference to my revisions per Maria’s editorial comments.
In the end, I couldn’t decide between two revisions. Neither could Tricia. We decided to send them both to Maria. I worried I might come across as indecisive? Nope. She loved them both! She and I talked about reasons one might be stronger and finally chose one. It was almost like flipping a coin.
Then a funny thing happened. When Ben Mantle was working on the illustrations, he contacted Maria. He wondered about using the revision we hadn’t chosen. He felt it would be funnier and told Maria his thoughts. She passed them on to me and I could see his point. I told her I needed a week to think. It was crazy how many times that week I read my two revisions aloud. By the end of the week I had no doubt that Ben was right and we went with the other revision. I haven’t looked back. What a great lesson! Think of your book as a team effort. A picture book is a marriage of text and illustrations. I knew Ben was totally invested because of his keen observation. If your illustrator offers their thoughts, be willing to listen.
**To win a copy of Penny’s fabulous book, There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, leave a comment by July 21 and I’ll randomly select a winner who will be announced in my post next month**
P.S. Penny and I were chatting about the book printing process (sparked by my post last month, Building a Book – To the Printer We Go) and she shared her 40-page picture book was created from three large printed sheets (AKA “running sheets”), which included two 16-page sheets and one 8-page sheet. I thought others might find this interesting because a reader had posted a comment asking how many running sheets were used for my 32-page picture book, The Soda Bottle School. I didn’t know, so I emailed the printer and discovered all 32 pages were printed on one huge running sheet!
Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. She loves all kinds of books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too. Penny lives in Abilene, TX.
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