Say hello to my crit partner and friend, Norene Paulson. She looks like a happy camper, doesn’t she? That’s because her DEBUT book, BENNY’S TRUE COLORS (Imprint, illustrated by Anne Passchier), flip-flaps out into the world TODAY!!!
BENNY’S TRUE COLORS is the story of a sweet, lovable little bat who doesn’t like flying at night, eating bugs, or hanging upside down. What DOES he like? Sunshine. Fluttering. Colorful wings. His butterfly friends help Benny transform his outside to match his inside. The publisher’s synopsis sums it up beautifully:
“Writer Norene Paulson and illustrator Anne Passchier’s Benny’s True Colors is a transformative story about knowing your true self, and the joy of letting the world know you, too.”
Yes, THAT. So I invited Norene to show off her debut baby here on PBB and give us the scoop on all things BENNY.
JE: Hi, Norene! So glad you could chat today, especially about a story I remember from its draft-y days. I don’t think I ever heard the WHY of it, though. Do you recall how this idea came to you?
NP: It’s a bit embarrassing because this born-and-raised-city girl did not know the difference between bat and bird droppings. Our covered front door entry is brick and approximately twelve feet high with a tall window above the front door. Barn swallows are notorious for wanting to build nests on top of that window, so I thought what I was continually sweeping off the front stoop was bird droppings until a friend asked why we had BAT droppings by our front door. I was curious, too, so one night around midnight I took a flashlight, snuck out the front door, and discovered a little brown bat roosting about seven feet above my head. Why, I wondered, was this little bat not out gobbling up insects like all the other bats in the backyard. It seemed to me this little one was hiding out. Before I knew it, my “why” was followed by “what if”. What if hanging upside down gave him a headache? What if he was afraid of the dark? What if he hated the taste of bugs? Maybe there was more to it than that. What if he was really a butterfly who only looked like a bat? I assumed he was a bat because he looked like a bat, but how often are assumptions made about someone based on how they look? As a former middle school teacher, I can tell you…too many times. That’s when I knew I had to tell the story of a little bat who was really a butterfly.
JE: We have barn swallows that nest at our front porch, too. So swallow poop I’m familiar with. (Overly familiar.) But I can honestly say I’ve never thought about the bat variety before and will have to investigate. Meanwhile, please tell our readers how you landed your agent, since it’s one of my all-time fave anecdotes. (And you know how I feel about well-crafted pitches.)
NP: It’s a bit ironic that someone like me who is not social media savvy connected with my agent through a Twitter pitch party. Before I even entered my first one, I had to figure out what they were and how they worked. Once I did, I found the courage to participate in several but did not receive any hearts from editors or agents. To be honest, I was at a point where I was losing confidence in my writing ability, so I’d already decided that I was not going to participate in the February 2018 #PBPitch party. Luckily, about noon that day I thought what do I have to lose. I tweaked two pitches and sent them off. When I checked about 30 minutes later, one actually had a heart from an agent from an agency I recognized. Needless to say, I was dancing and screaming around the house until nerves took over when I realized now the story had to live up to the pitch. Once I submitted the complete manuscript, things moved quickly. The next morning, the agent gave me her agency email, said she was intrigued by the story, and wanted to learn more. During that exchange, she asked for two or three additional manuscripts to see if we were a good match. Four days later I received an email asking if I had time for a phone call. Again I screamed and danced around the house. Was this The Call? In the end, it was and that’s how I connected with my agent, Naomi Davis, at BookEnds Lit Agency.
You’re right in that a well-written pitch is important, but the funny thing is getting it perfect isn’t as important as getting it right…the right pitch to the right agent/editor at the right time. Having your pitch hearted is a combination of good luck and perfect timing although a strong hook, high stakes, and spot-on hashtags help, too.
JE: For sure! Okay, tell us about The Call.
NP: When Naomi emailed asking if I had time for a phone call, I quickly googled and jotted down questions I should ask. However, when The Call came, I was so nervous I couldn’t find where I’d put my paper with the questions. In the end it worked out fine because later after the Call when I finally found my questions, Naomi had answered all of them. The actual Call was such a treat because to hear someone gushing over words that I had written was a bit surreal.
JE: Losing the list — isn’t that just the way things go sometimes?!!! So when your very first baby was out there on submission, at long last, how’d that feel?
NP: Honestly, I was nervous. It’s like sending your child to a new school and hoping everyone likes them. I really, really wanted people to like Benny. Fortunately my agent was so positive that the story would sell that I started believing her. Sure enough within a month we had two offers, and the manuscript went to auction. Just to be clear, that nervousness has not gone away. I still really, really want people to like him.
JE: LOVE that it went to auction!!! Those are so few and far between. Fun that you could experience it right out of the gate. So what was it like seeing Anne Passchier’s illustrations bring your story to such colorful life?
NP: Anne’s art is amazing. It’s bold and vibrant and visually pulls the reader into the story. I was fortunate to see snippets of the illustrations as the work progressed, but when I saw the complete PDF of the interior sketches, it took my breath away. To see your words come to life is indescribable.
JE: I agree! What can we look forward to next?
NP: My second book, WHAT’S SILLY HAIR DAY WITH NO HAIR? comes out March 1, 2021, with Albert Whitman. The story is about a girl with alopecia and how she and her best friend make her school’s Silly Hair Day a day everyone can enjoy. I also have several other manuscripts out on submission (fingers crossed) and several ideas swirling around in my head.
JE: That’s right around the corner! Thanks for visiting with us, friend. And, as always, fingers crossed for you!
Norene’s website is here.
And you can see more of Anne Passchier’s art at her website, here.
Yippee, we’re having a GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a copy of BENNY’S TRUE COLORS for your very own, enter for a chance to win by leaving a comment below. U.S. residents only, please.