BENNY’S TRUE COLORS + a chat with debut author Norene Paulson!

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.

61 Comments:

  1. Wonderful interview Norene and Jill! I love the illustrations!

  2. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Yay!!!!!! Happy Book Birthday, Norene! As the cohost of #PBPitch I have been counting down towards this day and can’t wait to get my copy, hopefully later today. I loved reading the story behind the story. I also had no idea this story went to auction!!!!!! Congrats again. (And your illustrator is amazing.)

  3. I simply love this…thanks for sharing!

  4. Congratulations, Norene! I love hearing the success stories. It gives hope to us who are still pre-published. 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Norene. BENNY looks amazing!

  6. Book looks adorable, would love this book for my twins! My daughter especially will love the talk about colors.

  7. This book looks wonderful -congrats and thanks for sharing your journey!

  8. Such a fun story! Love how you became inspired to write Benny. We have flycatchers who nest over our cars. Not toooo messy. But still. Congratulations!

  9. What a colorful butterfly bat! A very creative MC.

    • Thanks, Stacy! I agree the illustrator and art director did a wonderful job with the bold colors. Photos really don’t show how neon, fluorescent the pink is on the cover. It really pops. I love your phrasing… butterfly bat!!

  10. I also think this was a wonderful interview, ladies.
    I am SO happy for Norene. I love the way Benny works as a metaphor for those people who are struggling to be who they think society says they should be.
    I especially enjoyed Norene’s excitement throughout her journey as she was contacted by an agent – “Dancing and screaming throughout the house.” Her descriptions made me feel her excitement. Congratulations!
    I look forward to obtaining a copy of BENNY’S TRUE COLORS.

  11. Me again. I have a question…. How do bats poo while hanging upside down and not getting it on themselves??

    • Great question! I had to look it up and here’s what I found…When they’re snoozing in their roosts– a cave, a tree, an attic and nature calls, they flip themselves right-side up, fire away, then flip back again. Most bats have a “thumb” along the top edge of their wings that can grip a roost as well as their feet can.

      That’s funny!

  12. I have to meet Benny! I love him already.

  13. Happy Book Birthday Norene. I love bat stories. I will have to check Benny out.

  14. Every year we have a brown bat that hangs at the top of our front porch. Some early mornings as I step out for my pre-dawn run, I spy him/her staring down at me. Other days, I just see the evidence left on the ground in the corner. This book looks so cute and I can’t wait to read it.

  15. Hooray! Happy book birthday to Norene! What great colors in the illustrations for a book about true colors 🙂

  16. So excited for you Norene!! Cannot wait to read Benny’s adventures to my kids!

  17. Thanks for sharing your story, Norene! Congratulations, and I like your website–especially “Oh, the Things” section.

  18. Congratulations, Norene! Thanks for sharing about your writing journey. So encouraging. The book looks fabulous, too!

    • Thanks, Kim! My writing journey has definitely been one of “hang in there”. Hopefully, it doesn’t take others as long as it took me to reach this point, but if it does, it’s still pretty sweet. 🙂

  19. Cute idea, Great way to convey an important concept.

  20. Congratulations to Norene for your debut PB! And congratulations to Anne for bringing it to life with such eye-catching colors! I can’t wait to read it!

    • Thanks, Mary! Anne (Andy) Passchier and Natalie Sousa, the art director, did an amazing job with the illustrations. Photos don’t do justice to the vivid, fluorescent pink color on the cover and inside pages. It literally pops. Also, if you get a chance, peek under the book jacket. What you’ll see is one of my favorite parts of the book.

  21. What a fun book! I loved learning how it became published. Thanks for sharing this fun and informative interview.

  22. Great concept! Congrats on your debut!! It pays to never give up!

  23. Great interview and congratulations, Norene!

  24. Congratulations! What an interesting g story!

  25. I love this story so much, Norene, and I enjoyed learning the story behind the story! Congratulations!!

  26. Thanks for the introduction to Norene and her writing journey. I look forward to reading this beautiful book. 🙂

  27. Great questions, Jill and great, interesting answers, Norene. This is a much needed SEL book. Love that it looks at identity. I too loved the description of getting “the call” and also can relate to seeing my words (songs) come alive with art. It changes everything. Elevates it. Congratulations. I would absolutely love this book for the SEL section of the Kidlit Recording Studio Library. Happy Book Birthday, to all involved in making this book.

  28. What a wonderful story line. Isn’t it amazing how great manuscript ideas come from the strangest places! Can’t wait to read it!

  29. Can’t wait to meed Benny! Terrific interview. Congratulations, Norene and Anne!

  30. It must be exhilarating to be published and get your work acknowledged and celebrated and to think of your work getting into the hands, and your words into the hearts, of kids everywhere… what an awesome priviledge.

    But … am I the only one who feels uncomfortable with the message of this book?

    I will surround my kids and the kids I influence with messages of loving themselves the way they are…. not needing surgery or alterations to feel happy with themselves or to fit in… but to accept their skin color, their language, their weight and size and sex, (or the amazing physical prowess, anatomy and physiology, adaptations, and unique role in the food web/ecosystem of the bat….), my children’s gifts and unique interests, their unique voice and contribution to this world… and realize they are gloriously and divinely exquisite, just the way they are. Many insidious ideologies will come their way and I want to prepare them on the inside to say, “No thanks. I am perfect, just the way I am.”

    I guess if I write a book that will be the approach I will take. Each one must write from a place that is true to them.

  31. Thanks, Shona! I appreciate your comments and agree all children need to receive continual messages of self-acceptance and unconditional love. I hope you do consider writing a book because more stories are needed that celebrate every child’s uniqueness.

  32. Thank you for your gracious reply and encouragement.

  33. Congratulations!

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