Debut authors. We love ’em. Especially when they’re also super nice people and friends, like Sarah Glenn Fortson. Sarah agreed to a visit so we could talk about her new book, THIS COWGIRL AIN’T KIDDIN’ ABOUT THE POTTY (illustrated by Russ Cox, published by Peter Pauper Press).
A bit about the story: Cowgirl A.K. is just too busy to bother tackling the “big white stallion” (the toilet). “Ain’t kiddin’,” she tells her mother (and then her teacher). “I got no time for the potty.”
And she IS busy! She has “fences to varnish, horses to harness, and spurs that tarnish.” And, at school, learning to do. All the while, A.K.’s proudly outfitted exactly like her idol, Wild Wilma Wilkee, the most famous cowgirl of all. (Photos are from the f&g graciously provided by Peter Pauper Press.)
Then, on a school trip to a rodeo, she sees Wild Wilma Wilkee, live and in person! A.K. follows Wilma through the crowd for an autograph…but loses her at the line of port-a-potties.
When Wilma shows up again, she signs A.K.’s ten-gallon hat and even consents to a picture of the two of them. Then…
“Back at the bunkhouse, the day was winding down. A.K. placed her new photo beside her bed and took ONE MORE LOOK.”
That’s when she notices that yes, she and Wilma are dressed alike, head to toe…except for — uh-oh! — that diaper fringe sticking out from her jeans! So begins her change of heart, hilariously illustrated in scenes in which she gallops down the hall in her new bronco-bunting’ undies and tackles the big white stallion at long last.
The book is so fun to read aloud, because the cowgirl VOICE is outstanding and allows plenty of opportunities for the read-alouder to ham it up.
So let’s get to our interview!
Jill: First, I have to ask: Sarah, what sparked this story idea?
Sarah: And first, I have to say, “Thank you, Jill. I am honored to be here with you on Picture Book Builders!”
The spark for this story came while babysitting a three, almost four-year-old, who was quite reluctant about the potty. I was on a mission. When Mom returned, I wanted to tell her of our success. So, I may have been pushing a little hard, trying every trick in the book to get her into the bathroom and on the potty. She was not buying it and finally turned to me and said, “Don’t you know, I’m busy. I have stuff to do.” She then stomped off to her room and may have closed the door on me.
Jill: Haha! So much for your resolve, Sarah! Here on PBB, we always (okay, usually) strive to pinpoint the one thing about a picture book that strikes us as outstanding in some way. In COWGIRL, that’s undoubtedly the hilarious and spot-on cowgirl voice. Is narrator A.K.’s rootin’ tootin’ drawl something that evolved over time, or was that pretty much how you heard it from the beginning?
Sarah: It definitely evolved. In the first version of the story, the main character was a princess, but something didn’t feel right about that. I wanted a more “earthy” girl. I happened to be visiting friends in Arizona and they took us to a rodeo. That’s when the cowgirl was born. I’m originally from the south so the drawl comes naturally. I just added a little cowpoke lingo.
Jill: Well, it definitely works. How many revisions did it take to know THIS COWGIRL was exactly right? Were there more after it was acquired?
Sarah: I don’t know how many revisions there were, but I do remember most of them involved cutting. Some were micro-cuts when I got cold-feet about some daring scenes. Like when she whipped off her jeans and her diaper, I had her galloping down the hall in her ten-gallon hat and that was all. I figured the big hat would cover what it needed to cover. But…I chickened-out. I also cut a big scene on a school bus going to the rodeo. I needed a lower word count and that scene didn’t feel necessary. After the story was acquired, we only made small changes when wording didn’t match up with the illustrations.
Jill: Tell us about getting The Call.
Sarah: My editor, Mara Conlon (Peter Pauper Press) was in the audience at The Writing Barn when I read COWGIRL. I chose to read that particular story, because I was nervous and figured something short and funny would get me through. I was not expecting anyone to want it! My previous agent, after one rejection, told me not many publishers wanted “potty” books. So I had put it on the back burner.
All through the process leading to acquisition, I kept my excitement “in check.” I know other writers, waiting for their first offer, will understand that feeling of “let’s not jinx this.”
My contract from Mara arrived by email while I was attending my second weekend intensive at The Writing Barn.
Jill: Score one for writing workshops! Did you have a say in the illustration process? What was it like getting your first look at Russ Cox’s big, bright, funny sketches, especially considering this was your debut book?
Sarah: Russ Cox and I were at one time represented by the same agent. She had asked Russ to sketch some sample cowgirls. I had those sketches and with Russ’s permission, sent them to Mara. I was so excited when they chose him and confident that whatever he and Mara decided would work for me. And, oh my goodness, did it ever! I am in awe. Russ works very fast. Either that, or he doesn’t sleep. Every few days a new scene would come in. I loved them all. I hope everyone will make a point of noticing the back cover. I had no idea that was in the works!
Jill: Back cover: LOL. Too cute! And this swag created by Blue Slip Media (and Russ Cox) to go with the book! Swoon-worthy.
Okay, everybody, Sarah’s editor has been kind enough to offer us a giveaway copy of THIS COWGIRL AIN’T KIDDIN’ ABOUT THE POTTY! Want it? All you have to do is leave a comment below. Yee-haw!
Meanwhile, the winner of my last giveaway, who’ll win an autographed copy of Jody Jensen Shaffer’s adorable IT’S A FIELD TRIP, BUSY BUS! is ….LeeAnn Rizzuti! Congratulations, LeeAnn!