Carrie Finison is here to talk with us about writing her debut picture book, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS – coming from Putnam on July 21, 2020!
With an irresistible refrain and cozy illustrations by Brianne Farley, this fun picture book celebrates friendship, sharing, and math – covering all three successfully in one picture book is impressive.
A bear named LouAnn is baking a doughnut feast to get ready for her long winter’s nap. But just before she takes a bite: DING DONG!
Friends keep coming, and LouAnn keeps dividing up the doughnuts. Kids will love counting the doughnuts and turning the page to see who’s coming next.
Now let’s hear from Carrie!
Tell us about your writing process. How did you get started with writing this story?
DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS is written in rhyme. When I write in rhyme, I generally need a ‘spark’ to begin – a strong couplet, an opening stanza, or a refrain that I can build the story around.
In this instance, I had been mulling over the idea for the story for a while, so when the spark finally came in the form of the opening lines, I had a good idea of where I wanted to go with it. Of course, those opening lines eventually changed. But they served their purpose and launched me into writing.
Drafting a story in rhyme takes a bit more time than writing a first draft in prose, but I’m impatient! Usually I have rhymes piling up in my brain, and I just need to get them down, so I don’t always write the story “in order.” I may jump from scene to scene and spread to spread as thoughts occur to me. I may write down a bunch of rhyming pairs that I think will work somewhere in the story without any place to put them (yet). If I’m stumped, I may write a scene in prose and move on, then go back and fill in the rhyme later.
And how did your story transform over time? Did you get feedback from a critique group?
DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS went through many drafts and many trips through my critique groups, even though the basic premise of the story — a bear who is making doughnuts and sharing them with woodland friends — didn’t change all that much.
Along the way, I brought it to a conference for peer critique where one of the other writers (a teacher) made a great suggestion. In that draft, the bear’s doughnuts were divided first by two friends, then three, and then four. She suggested adding two more friends, so that teachers could use the story to show 12 divided by all of its factors – 2, 3, 4, and 6. That change gave the story a STEM hook, and my final two characters, a pair of rascally chipmunks, were born.
I also had a critique from an editor at a conference who suggested naming my main character something other than “Bear” to help the story stand out in a marketplace crowded with bears. That revision was a tough one as I went through many possible names, finally settling on LouAnn. Of course, then it didn’t make sense that none of the other characters had names, so I named them all!
The animals’ names are so unique. Here’s LouAnn with Woodrow at the table. And I love the tail in the window.
Did you envision from the beginning which animals would be the bear’s friends? Or did the decision about which animals were knocking on the door come later – like from the editor or illustrator?
My final assortment of animal friends – a bear, woodchuck, raccoon, opossum, skunk, and two chipmunks — is a long way from where the story started. In the beginning the animals were completely different, and they weren’t friends! In the very first draft, animals such as squirrels, crows, an owl, and a fox arrived and stole each batch of the bear’s doughnuts as they cooled.
As the story evolved, I experimented with other woodland creatures — and different numbers of animals as the math element developed. In one version, all the animals went to sleep together at the end of the story, which takes place just as winter’s first snow begins.
My astute agent tossed out a suggestion that I focus on animals that hibernate during the winter like bears do. Except I found out while researching that bears aren’t actually true hibernators! Instead, they go into a state called ‘torpor,’ sometimes called ‘light hibernation.’ That sent me down a rabbit hole, researching the different ways animals cope with winter. Some, like chipmunks and woodchucks, are true hibernators. Others, like bears, skunks, and raccoons, go into torpor and are able to wake up to forage frequently. Opossums have the worst of it and must go out frequently to look for food, even in the coldest weather. Their bare tails and feet often get frostbitten.
I know this rabbit hole! I went down this same rabbit hole for my picture book, HIBERNATION STATION. The science behind light sleepers and deep sleepers can get quite complex.
Tell us about working with your editor.
Stephanie Pitts at Putnam was the editor who acquired DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. Her first suggestion, even before purchasing the story, was to cut about half the words. She showed where she thought the cuts could be made and asked if I’d be interested in working with her. There were a LOT of “darlings” left on the cutting room floor, but ultimately she was right. It was a great lesson in paring down a text to the essentials and leaving much of the story to the illustrator.
Besides being an excellent and careful editor, Stephanie has a gift for pairing a text with exactly the right illustrator. When she sent me Brianne Farley’s name and I looked at her portfolio online, full of adorable and expressive animals, I knew she’d do an AMAZING job with this story. And she absolutely did!
Yes, she did an amazing job. What are your top tips for writing picture books?
Here are some picture book writing tips that have been an important part of my process:
• Read. You cannot write for the current market if you’re not reading the current market. Read picture books as they were intended: aloud – preferably to kids, your own or someone else’s – as often as you can.
• Type out picture book texts. I got this tip from WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul. It helps me see how much (or little) text is on the page, hone in on patterns in the text, notice what is in the text and what’s left to the illustrations, and understand how page turns are used. It’s also a great way to ease into a writing session if I’m feeling blocked or unmotivated.
• Make a dummy. Even though I’m not an illustrator, I always make a paper dummy when I’m working on a book – to help me envision the illustrations and how the page turns will flow. For me, this is an essential step. (Then I hide it in a folder so no one ever has to see my terrible illustrations!)
• Find a good critique group. From the outside, writing seems like a solitary pursuit but there’s actually a lot of collaboration and learning from others. Find people who will cheer you on, but who will also tell you the truth about your stories. Since many beginning writers have this question, I’ve created a list of ways to find or form a critique group on my website. https://www.carriefinison.com/how-to-find-a-critique-group
What can we look forward to next?
I’m thrilled to have several more picture books in the works! Next up is DON’T HUG DOUG, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, about an ordinary kid who doesn’t happen to like hugs. My aim with this book was to spark discussions about bodily autonomy and consent, to empower kids to speak up when they don’t want a hug, and to encourage adults to listen to them. Stephanie Pitts edited this one as well, and it was a lot of fun to work with her again, this time on a very different type of story. DON’T HUG DOUG will release in Spring 2021 – right around the corner in publishing time.
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This is all so exciting, Carrie – now I need a doughnut!
Congratulations on your forthcoming picture books and thanks for visiting Picture Book Builders.
Connect with Carrie online:
For a chance to win a copy of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, leave a comment by June 8. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner in my next post.
Thanks for reading & see you next time!
I love this story, and can’t wait for it to debut! Congratulations, Carrie!
Thanks, Tina! ❤️
Thanks, Tina! ❤️
Hi Tina! Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
What a fun book and concept! I love the wonderful illustrations! Congratulations!
Congrats Carrie. I love your suggestions for perfecting your craft.
Congratulations Carrie! This book has such a clever premise. I appreciate reading about how it developed. Each evolution seemrd to lead the MS just where it needed to go!
That’s a great good way of putting it, Mary!
This is so exciting on several levels . It will be a welcome addition to the amazing picture books by Marilyn Burns for MATH concepts and processes. The othe exciting info is what a wonderfully collaborative editor Stephanie Pitts is, I met her worked wi5 her for a few minutes at a conference and was very impressed, so hearing about her engaged and constructive involvement with your rhyming text sounds like a dram come true.
I’d love to be a winner o this one, but will likely buy it as gifts for t3acher friends, too.
Yes! Teachers are so great a wringing every drop out of the materials they use – I’m sure they’ll find ways to connect with the math in this book. And yes, Stephanie is fabulous to work with!
I’m so excited to read this, Carrie! It looks adorable and I am ALWAYS thrilled to see another rhyming PB out in the world! Congrats! 🙂
I always have such respect for those who can write in rhyme! It’s hard enough to write a picture book manuscript, let alone using rhyme and rhythm.
Hi Carrie, I loved learning about the creation process for DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. It sounds amazing and I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations!
This book sounds like so much fun! Congrats!!!!!!!
I love how you named the animals! Thanks for sharing and congrats!
Thank you! Their names are a whole OTHER story that I’ll have to tell some other time. It was really fun choosing them.
How hard it is to share doughnuts! This book will be good for math concepts as well as just plain fun! I look forward to reading it.
Yes – not sure the math gets easier or harder when doughnuts are involved. LOL
Love donuts and love donut stories!
I love the premise of this story. Looks like a fun read aloud, too! Congratulations, Carrie and Brianne!
We love donuts at our house! I love the math and fun animals. Can’t wait to read it! Congratulations!
This was so helpful. Can’t wait to read the book.
I loved hearing the story behind the story. Congratulations Carrie! Looking forward to meeting LouAnn!
This book looks wonderful. As a teacher, I love the math woven throughout and the illustrations look absolutely adorable!
Thank you, Sara!
Sugared, powdered, glazed and dipped with delight that everyday this book gets one step closer to being in the world!
Hip hip HOORAY Carrie!
? Thanks, Cathy!
Can’t wait to read both Dozens of Doughnuts and Don’t Hug Doug! Thanks for sharing your process and the transformation of Dozens of Doughnuts along the way.
Congrats on your debut book! It sounds so fun. I’m excited to read it!
Ha, lots of animals all eating donuts, my twins would love this book for sure!
Perhaps they will relate to Chip and Chomp. 🙂
Sounds like a delicious story! I’ll be looking for it.
Loved learning about your spark and the evolution of your story! As a teacher and mom of 4 girls AND a huge donut or doughnut fan, this book put a smile on my face, and I’m sure many others as well!
Thank you! Doughnuts make everything more fun. 🙂
This looks delightful. I love the STEM element!
Doughnuts and math go VERY well together!
A great story, Carrie. Thanks for sharing how it came together.
Congrats, Carrie! This looks adorable. Always so interesting to hear a story’s backstory too 🙂
Thank you! This one had a pretty meandering path so it was fun to recall some of the details.
I love this idea and I love doughnuts. It will be on my shelf for nourishment and inspiration. Thanks for sharing your journey. There are many wonderful tips in your sharings.
Can’t wait to read and share this book!
Well, I love donuts. And I can tell I’d love this book…and its illustrations! Congratulations! I know it’s difficult to write rhyming text.
Hi Carrie and Michelle and Brianne! Go LouAnn! And thanks for the exceptional deep dive into Carrie’s rhyming processes — from an all important “spark” start to saying goodbye to “darlings” on the cutting room floor. Good to know that as a rhymer I’m “normal!’ and on the right track, right down to the dummy — a story’s “roadmap” that’s lots of fun to create.
Looks like a wonderful book, which can make a math impression on kids. Learning is so much easier when it’s fun.
Thank you for the writing advice. I’ve been reading lots of picture books (I checked out about 20 before our library closed) and have written out the text to try and understand how authors leave room for illustrators to show the story. I am not very good at rhyming text and admire your skills.
Thank you! Rhyme does take a lot of practice but it can be learned. If you love it, keep at it!
Sounds like a great book! I used to work in a donut shop:-)
Ahh – dream job!!
Yum! I could see myself getting in trouble at work for eating too much.
Can’t wait to read this!!
Congrats on the book!
I love the way you work surprise into your rhymes. I’ve loved watching this book make its way into the world as part of your debut group. <3
It’s been a fun ride so far, hasn’t it? And we’re only halfway through our 2020. Can’t wait to see what the second half brings!
Congrats, Carrie! Can’t wait to read this book.
Carrie, I’m really impressed by how you recognized great suggestions from others and used them to strengthen your story. Sometimes it’s hard to shift gears like that. (Oh, and I just ate a donut. Well, two donuts. A story about donuts sounds delicious.)
This is really important because, as they say IT’S SUBJECTIVE – sometimes as a writer you’ll get conflicting advice or advice that doesn’t speak to you. It can be hard to filter through the suggestions and figure out what really improves the story. Fortunately, picture books are short and you can always go back to a previous version if you make changes and they don’t work. 🙂
Such a great interview, Carrie and Michelle. The process is fascinating from first idea to finished book. I love reading details of what changed and the thinking behind it and who suggested what. And what a gorgeous book! Kids will love it and what a fun read aloud. Plus donuts! Congratulations, Carrie!
Thanks for reading, Kaye!
Thank you so much, Kaye!
So much deliciousness! What an astute teacher to suggest adding two more characters for all those factors of 12. I’m having fun picturing kids and teachers using this in class (in a future where such things exist…)
Ha – yes, I hope that future day comes soon!
This is adorable! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read it.
Congratulations Carrie! Thanks for sharing the evolution of your book.
Beautiful, fun story
sounds like a great book Carrie! congrats!
Thank you for sharing your process! It’s so interesting to hear about what it takes fo produce a picture book.
I love the colors in these illustrations, and the character in the animals’ faces!
I agree – I ADORE Brianne Farley’s illustrations. She did a fantastic job!
Genius combo of smart and fun? Oh, I’ll have to own this one!
Thank you so much, Jill!
I love STEM and donutS ?! Congratulations on your new book!!
This looks adorable! Congratulations, Carrie, and thanks, Michelle! And, boy, I know that hibernation rabbit hole too — I spent a lot of time there working on William’s Winter Nap!
Thanks, Linda! That hibernation rabbit hole is something! Enjoy the weekend!
Isn’t it fascinating? The full story on hibernation is SO much more complex than I always thought. I love finding out these little science nuggets, even when writing a fictional story.
I’ve loved this story since first draft, Carrie! And even though I’ve been one of your critique buddies since 2012, I learned something new from this interview! I didn’t know you sometimes jump from scene to scene as you are writing. But probably by the time I’ve seen any of your manuscripts, they are fully formed. Thanks so much for sharing so much of your process!
Thank YOU, Vivian, for all your help with this story – and many others! ❤️ our group!
Oh this looks spectacular!!! Cannot wait to get it! Thanks for a great interview also. ?
Congratulations, Carrie! Can’t wait for this delicious book!
As a teacher, I love it when I can use picture books to teach math lessons. Congratulations it looks like an amazing story.
Thank you! I do hope teachers will find it a good launching point for math lessons.
Thank you for sharing the origin story of this book! Don’t Hug Doug sounds brilliant as well. I also appreciate the links to your website/newsletter. So much goodness. : )
Thanks for subscribing, Bridget!
So much to look forward to with this book! Loved the background story! Congratulations!
This book sounds like a treat* to read! I love the sweet illustrations of the animals, two** !!
*pun intended !
**pun also intended !!
Haha – I see what you did there!
I can’t wait to see this! Congratulations, Carrie and Brianne. And thank you for the terrific post, Michelle!
Congratulations Carrie! I really enjoyed learning the story behind your darling book–and not surprisingly, I have a craving for donuts.
Haha – yes, that’s definitely a side effect of reading this book and looking at all of Brianne Farley’s amazing doughnuts.
I’ve been looking forward to this book for so long! Loving the layers already. Congratulations!
Thank you, Mary!
Sounds like such a fun book! Can’t wait to read.
Love to hear about the process other authors use!
Such a cute story! I’m looking forward to it! Congratulations, Carrie!
Carrie, thank you for sharing your writing process. Congratulations on getting published – gives me hope that my rhyming books might see the light of day. And now, excuse me while I go make some doughnuts!
Thanks for sharing your behind the book story, Carrie. Adding Dozens of Doughnuts to my TBR list.
So glad to learn about this mathy kids book!
Can’t wait to read it!