Talking with Beth Ferry about SWASHBY AND THE SEA and more (+ Giveaway!)

Hello, PBB friends—

First of all, how are you doing in this strange and otherworldly time? Are you writing? Baking? Discovering new talents? Or, like me, are you feeling scattered and unfocused? 

A month ago, when my last post was due, I couldn’t put a sentence together (thanks, Jill, for filling in). My sister had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and spent eleven days in the ICU. I’m incredibly relieved and grateful to report that she’s at home now and doing really well. But I know that too many have not been so fortunate, and that we’ve all been touched by this isolating illness in a variety of ways, from the inconvenient to the heart-wrenching. I hope you’re all hanging in there.

But let’s go back to a different time—say, early March—when people traveled great distances to gather at things like children’s book festivals. In fact, there was one right here in North Carolina, where people read together, ate together, and joked about bumping elbows (ha!). That’s where I met today’s guest—the vibrant and talented author Beth Ferry, whose many acclaimed children’s books feature clever language, warmth and humor.

LA: Welcome, Beth! Let’s start with a pandemic check-in. How are you doing?

BF: I’m sure I feel like everyone else – like we are living in a dystopian novel where it fluctuates between being super scary and then a bit like summer vacation. Very strange times indeed. I work from home, so besides two of my kids being home, it is very much business as usual, although with more cooking, cleaning and puzzles involved. I am trying to focus on the positive and am grateful my family is healthy! I am also still trying to write every day, but am truly reading more than I am writing. Thank you, Booktowne!

LA: You’ve had so many picture books published in the last few years, with many more in the pipeline. How did you get started? Any advice for aspiring writers?

BF: I started seriously writing after my kids had all entered middle school back in 2009. I finally had that smidge of time that I never seemed to have before while simultaneously noticing that the years were flying by. Wasn’t it just last week that I was tucking my kids in and reading picture books to them? So armed with some free time and a lifelong love of words, I decided it was now or never to try to see if I could fulfil a dream and write a picture book. I wrote and read and wrote some more. Joined SCBWI. Wrote and read and wrote some more until finally I wrote Stick and Stone in 2011 which was published in April, five years ago.

As for advice – there is so much great advice out there, but I would have to say: study mentor texts and identify what you love in your favorite books. What speaks to you as a writer and a reader? Then read your own story. Does it have any of those elements you love? If not, add them! 

LA: Speaking of books we love, let’s talk about your latest, Swashby and the Sea, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2020).

Swashby’s a grumpy go-it-aloner who doesn’t exactly welcome his new neighbors, a young girl and her grandmother. He writes them “stay away” messages in the sand.

But his friend the sea, who knows him “in and out, up and down, and better than anyone” rewrites the messages in a more inviting way.

Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story—and about the rewriting of the messages (which I love)? 

BF: Swashby and the Sea is one of those books that is close to my heart. And with Juana illustrating, it is truly a work of art. I wrote the story back in 2014 and sold it in 2015 so it’s been over five years in the making (a lot seemed to have happened five years ago). I actually sold Swashby before Stick and Stone was even published which was a surprise to me when I went back and looked. I got the idea when I was . . . surprise, surprise . . . at the beach. The berm of a beach is just so inviting, almost like a blank canvas and the wet sand is irresistible. My kids were always writing their names, building towers or playing tic-tac-toe in the sand, and without fail, the waves eventually washed their marks away. This is where the idea for this book came from. I loved the idea of the sea as a character and a friend to Swashby who used her skill at erasing things to change messages written in the sand. 

And here’s a fun fact: when I named the main character Swashby, I thought I was inventing a hypocorism (a pet name) for Swashbuckler, but in fact the swash zone is the part of the beach that is constantly being covered and uncovered by the waves. It goes like this: Ocean, swash zone, beach face, wrack line (high tide mark) and berm (where we beachgoers reside). It felt auspicious that the main character’s name actually was part of the shore. 

LA: Kate O’Sullivan is such a wonderful editor and has an amazing knack for finding the perfect illustrator for each text (she asked Christian Robinson to illustrate my book RAIN!, for which I’ll be forever grateful). She’s clearly done it again for this book. Tell us about working with her.

BF: Kate O’Sullivan was my very first editor, thanks to my agent, who thought that Stick and Stone could find a happy home with her. Kate acquired S&S in 2012 and suggested Tom Lichtenheld as the illustrator. This actually changed my life. Tom and I had the opportunity to meet in 2017 and since then have become very good friends. We published Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish in 2019 and are working on several more books together – two of which will be again with Kate, much to our delight. In addition to those two, I have worked with Kate on Swashby and a 2021 book entitled Marsha is MagneticKate is a sharp and thoughtful editor and her suggestions irrefutably make my writing better. Furthermore, her instincts for matching text with the perfect illustrator are, in my experience, incomparable. She herself is a gifted writer and her book, Lovely Beasts, is stunning. 

LA: There’s a clear oceanic theme running through many of your books. How does living by the sea (the Jersey Shore in particular) affect your writing? Where else do you find inspiration?

BF: If all my books could be about the beach and the ocean, I’d be a happy author indeed! Everything about the beach brings me happiness and that’s obviously why I write about it so much. But I truly get most of my ideas from words. Obviously words are a writer’s tools, but they are also a writer’s toys and I enjoy nothing better than playing with them. 

LA: Your first early reader, Fox and Rabbit, was published this year.  How is writing this series different from writing traditional picture books? 

BF: Boy, is it different! And pretty awesome! Because there is no narrative in graphic novels, the writer relies on nothing but dialogue to move the story forward. I used many more art notes than I ever had in a picture book because there are so many wordless scenes. My illustrator, Gergely Dudás, expanded the world and words of Fox & Rabbit in such a perfect way. He went way beyond my art notes and created a world that is happy and warm and welcoming. The first book is 96 pages and has five chapters which seemed crazy to me at first. For the first time ever, I wasn’t focused on word count. 

LA: What’s up next for you? 

BF: I had a fabulous opportunity to write a picture book for the movie that Disney is making of The One and Only Ivan. I am a huge fan of Katherine Applegate’s book and was delighted to be a part of this special story in the smallest of ways. If the movie remains slated for August 2020, then the book will publish in July 2020. Then in September, the second Fox & Rabbit is coming out. And lastly, in October, Molly Idle and I have a book coming out called We Believe in You. If you know Molly’s work (and who doesn’t), you will not be surprised to hear that it is breathtakingly gorgeous. 

Thanks so much for visiting, Beth!

To find out more about Beth and her books, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @bethferry1.


book giveaway!


For a chance to win a copy of Swashby and the Sea, leave a comment below by May 10th. And if you have any questions for Beth, ask away! Beth has agreed to answer them–just be sure to check back in the next day or two for her responses.


And, finally, the winner of My Daddy and Me from my March post is Tanya Konerman.

Take care, everyone. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Linda


Avatar

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

97 Comments:

  1. Swashby & the Sea is absolutely gorgeous. I love that the ocean is a character. Congratulations on all your books, Beth! Great interview!

  2. Wonderful interview. Swashby by the sea is on my list of books now! Inspiring.

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    Kim Pfennigwerth

    I love this story! And have been waiting to see it brought to life! What a fun interview, Beth, and so many exciting books to anticipate!!

    Loved this interview!

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    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Wow! Thanks for a great interview. I loved Stick and Stone and I now realized I missed many books by Beth. I can’t wait to see if my library has them on Hoopla! Swashby And The Sea sounds absolutely delightful!

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    Lynne Marie Pisano

    Have always been a fan of Beth’s books! Can’t wait to add this one to my collection!

  6. I hope I get to see this book….I’m a huge Beth Ferry fan….loved Scarecrow! Linda, I’m so glad to hear your sister is recovering. Very scary when this reality comes so close, I’m sure!

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    Charlotte Offsay

    Love the sound of this one!

  8. Wow! What an amazing career you are living. This books looks really great.

  9. Can’t wait to see this book! A beach story seems like a great getaway in this current time.

  10. I love ocean books! Looking forward to reading this one 🙂

  11. Beth, I love the look of Swashby and the Sea. I want to meet those characters!!

  12. How fun and encouraging to read of another author’s success. Congratulations! I look forward to reading more books by Beth.

  13. Stick and Stone has long been a favorite of mine and I eagerly snap up any other Beth Ferry books. They are all fabulous! Looking forward to Swashby. And I love the story of his name!

  14. Oh, this looks delightful! I love Stick and Stone. Looking forward to reading more! Congrats!

  15. This looks like another winner -love Stick and Stone -congrats!

  16. Wow, would love to win a copy of this book for my twins, it looks great!

  17. This book looks beautiful and I love the idea of the sea as a character. Congratulations on your success, Beth and thank you for the post.

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    Danielle Hammelef

    Hearing stories of recovery from Rona is heartwarming and hopeful! This book is set in my happy place–I love exploring beaches and listening to the waves. I can’t wait to read this gorgeous book.

    • I agree, Danielle. There are so many harrowing stories, so it’s good to know recovery is possible (and I’m especially grateful for my sister’s!). I know you’ll love the book!

  19. I live on a freshwater “ocean” — Lake Superior — and watching waves is a favorite pastime. What a clever idea, Beth. Congratulations.

  20. I can tell just from the sampling of pages in this post the vast amount of heart you put in your stories. I can’t wait to read this one. The illustrations are gorgeous, too! Congratulations, Beth!

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    Becky Scharnhorst

    Congratulations on another beautiful book, Beth! I pre-ordered it ages ago and I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival!

  22. I’m so glad to hear your sister has recovered, Linda. These are scary, uncertain times for sure. This book looks and sounds amazing, Beth! I adore grumpy characters in PBs! Great interview. It’s lovely to hear about your upcoming projects, too.

  23. Wow! What a lovely book. I can’t wait to read it. And I just learned a new word! The Swash Zone!

  24. This one is sure to become my new favorite.
    (Good thing you can have lots of favorites!!)

  25. Another wonderful story by one of my favorite PB authors. Love you, Beth!

  26. Swashby looks gorgeous & I look forward to reading another wonderful Beth Ferry book (and another and another…)! Thank you for sharing about your process and you upcoming projects. Maybe I’ll see you at the beach again this summer!

  27. This one looks like great fun–putting it on my TBR list for that glorious day when libraries reopen!

  28. I love how serendipity appeared in Swashby’s name. Do you find serendipity often in your work?

  29. Sounds like a wonderful book. I love Stick and stone. Congrats on all your stories!

  30. Linda, I’m happy to hear your sister is well…And thank you for introducing me to this delightful picture book. We all need to imagine ourselves on the beach with this girl.

  31. Sounds so cute! Can’t wait to read it!

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    Janet Frenck Sheets

    I love the idea of the sea rewriting Swashby’s words. It must have been challenging — and fun! — to figure out phrases that could be transformed when the water erases some letters.

  33. I already love Swashby! I can’t wait to read this gorgeous book!

  34. Looks like a fun book! I enjoyed your interview!
    Congratulations on your new book!

  35. Wonderful! Inspiring. Congratulations!

  36. Congratulations, Beth! I love that you made the sea a character in this fun PB. The ocean is my happy place:) I look forward to reading and sharing it!

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    Jilanne Hoffmann

    I, too, love the swash connection. Like one of AKR’s “signs” to follow.

  38. Thanks for the great post Linda and Beth. Swashby and the Sea sounds wonderful. A book with the sea as a character is a must read for me! I grew up near the ocean so the beach is home.

  39. It will be great to read another of Beth’s book. They are all wonderful.

  40. Congrats, Beth! I’d love to know what you know now that you wish you’d known earlier in your author journey.

    • Hi Susan,
      Hmmm, great question. I wish I had known about the balance between writing what you want – what’s in your heart or imagination – and writing what can get published. You have to work hard to find the balance between the two. I spent a lot of time writing what made me happy without considering the fact that publishing is a business and the whole point is to write books that people will hopefully buy!

  41. Hello! I am so happy to have just found this site! Can’t wait to study all the analysis here to help my development as a children’s picture book writer .. Mary

  42. Congratulations on this beautiful book and all your others! This is an inspiring interview.

  43. Anything by Beth Ferry is great and this one looks amazing.

  44. Your books have so much heart! Can’t wait to read Swashby!

  45. Congrats, Beth, on another book certain to be a hit! I sat across from Beth @ a children’s book festival (how I’m missing those) in NY and grabbed an autographed copy of her Scarecrow book:-)

  46. Oddly, I’ve imagined Swashby with a thick Maine accent all this time…and perhaps he has more of a New Jersey ‘twang’? Either way I love him and am so eager for this book to be in my hands soon. Congrats Beth and Juana!

    Linda – so glad your sister has recovered and that your family is well.

    • Hi Cathy!! Definitely no NJ twang!!! I think you might be right about a Maine accent. An old lobsterman or something!!

  47. I’m just discovering this blog and …wow. What a wealth of information for writers like me! Thank you for this great interview. I’m excited to dig deeper into what Beth Ferry has written. It seems like she will be one of those authors whose books I’ll request all at once, then have a hard time deciding which to add to my own collection.

  48. This looks absolutely adorable! I can’t wait to read it.

  49. Congratulations, Beth. I’m looking forward to meeting Swashby!
    Want to share this tidbit about SCARECROW. MY Inland NW SCBWI Creativity Boosting Bookclub just met to discuss Reading Picture Books With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See by Megan Lambert. One of the things she shares with kids is what lies under the book jacket and what it often adds to the book. I shared the wonderfully textural denim with patches of your book. Kudos to your publishing team who came up with this!

    • That’s so interesting, LeeAnn! I love when the book jacket is different than the cover. And I love how it’s always a surprise. Thanks for sharing that!

  50. Avatar
    Lisa Riddiough

    Linda, I am so glad your sister is better. Beth, congratulations on Swashby! What a charming book.

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