2019 NAPIBOWRIWEE DAY 3 – Meet Guest Author Deborah Underwood!

WELCOME TO DAY 3 OF THE 2019 NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK WITH GUEST AUTHOR DEBORAH UNDERWOOD!

Deborah Underwood

Welcome to Day 3 of our 2019 NAPIBOWRIWEE!

It’s only Day 3 and I’m so proud of everyone’s progress! We’ve had tons of comments not only here on the blog but on social media including Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

MY DAY 2 EXPERIENCE: I was inspired by the lovely Alice Faye Duncan’s interview where she wrote an acrostic for our Q&A interview. So I decided to write an acrostic prose poem for my Book #2. About my cats, of course. My trick was to first think of a phrase or words that made up a cool story and theme. Once I figured out that simple sentence, I then tried to form the acrostic around it. It was harder than I thought and took more time than I thought, LOL! But I finished a very very very VERY rough version. I plan to either revise it or use this technique for a future picture book idea. Thank you Alice for my Day 2 inspiration! 🙂

In the meantime, let’s hit the ground running on DAY 3 with our special guest, author DEBORAH UNDERWOOD! By the way, coincidentally, today is also her birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEBORAH UNDERWOOD! EVERYONE PLEASE WISH HER THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! So glad we can celebrate her birthday during NAPIBOWRIWEE! So without further ado…

DAY 3 – GUEST AUTHOR Q&A WITH DEBORAH UNDERWOOD

BIO: Deborah Underwood is the author of numerous picture books, including The Panda Problem, Bearnard’s Book, Interstellar Cinderella, and the New York Times Best Sellers Here Comes The Easter Cat, The Quiet Book, and The Loud Book! She lives in Northern California with her feline muse, Bella. Please visit her online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com.

Q&A WITH DEBORAH UNDERWOOOD

What is the most challenging part about writing/illustrating picture books?

I think the most challenging part of writing picture books is leaving room for the illustrator—writing less, not more. In a novel, a lovely description pulls the reader into your world. In a picture book, it handcuffs the artist and limits options. I’ll never forget what Renata Liwska, the fabulous illustrator of The Quiet Book, told me: if a writer writes too much description, the illustrator feels like she’s tracing a line that’s already been drawn.

Do you have a favorite picture book or a picture book that most inspires you with its writing and/or art? If so, which one is it and why?

One recent favorite is Elisha Cooper’s Big Cat, Little Cat. It’s specific yet universal. It’s elegant. It rips your heart up and then puts it back together, all in 165 words. (At least I think it’s 165 words; that’s what the Accelerated Reader website —a great source for word counts, by the way—says. Normally I’d check the book itself to confirm, but I don’t want to dissolve into a puddle of tears right now.)

If you could give one piece of writing or illustrating advice for our NaPiBoWriWee participants, what would it be?

It sounds so simple, but here it is: do the work. For picture book writers, that means read hundreds of picture books. Read books about writing for kids. Join SCBWI. Join a critique group. Go to conferences. Write. Revise. Revise again. Do all the stuff you know you should be doing.

I was lucky—I guess!—in that I’d tried a bunch of other kinds of writing in the many years before I focused on children’s books. So I got a lot of rookie mistakes out of the way before I entered this field. In my callow youth, I dismissively thought anyone could write a romance novel, so I dashed one off and was mortified to get an incisive rejection letter from an editor who pointed out the many flaws in my manuscript. I submitted an article to a magazine I hadn’t read a single issue of. (I mean, come on!) I got a “send me your next one” letter after I submitted a screenplay and was too inexperienced to know that was actually very encouraging, so I gave up. Argh!

You may hear about lightning-strike successes, but most people who succeed in this field do it through years and years of study, hard work, and persistence. (Darn it!)

There’s been increasing pressure for writers and artists to be active on social media. Are you on social media? If so, where can your readers reach you? Has social media helped your writing/art journey and career? Any advice for writers or artists who might feel overwhelmed by the social media “burden”?

Oh gosh, that’s such a huge issue, isn’t it? The best advice I’ve heard is to do what feels right to you. I’m very active on my personal Facebook page because I love being there: I’ve met so, so many wonderful book creators, and some of them have become real friends even though we’ve never met in person. I’ve gotten book ideas from things I’ve seen in my feed. Being on Facebook encourages me to write poems, which I share there. My Facebook pals keep me company during my work day, which for a freelancer can be lonely. I do talk about my books on Facebook, but the primary reason I’m there is for the community.

Twitter, on the other hand—boy. I do have an account, but it’s mostly to keep an eye on my mentions (e.g., if a teacher tweets that her class enjoyed reading Here Comes Valentine Cat, I want to be able to acknowledge that and thank her). But I don’t really get it, and I don’t enjoy it nearly enough to try to figure it out. Life’s too short!

So my advice is to experiment, but stay true to what feels good to you. Be your authentic self, because that’s what people will respond to. And be aware that any social media platform can morph into a time-eating monster you must perpetually battle—as I do!

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Thank you Deborah for taking time to talk with us about picture books! I love your common sense advice on how we need to continue working hard because WRITING PICTURE BOOKS IS HARD! 🙂 It’s all about being humble and paying your dues. Deborah’s career is an example of how hard work DOES pay off! For more info on Deborah, be sure to visit her website here: DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com

Deborah will graciously donate an autographed copy of her latest book to a lucky winner in our annual drawing contest! (Winners are chose at random). Winners will be announced on our May 8, 2019 blog, so stay tuned!

Well, speaking of working hard, I’m off to juggle my Book #3 along with my other book deadlines and work meetings. I think my decision to just focus on very young and super short books about my three cats is working so far. It kind of focuses me in the morning before I delve back into my larger book deadlines. Keep me posted on how you are all doing! I’m a little behind on the comments on these blogs because of my schedule, but I promise to respond more soon! Thank you again for participating! I also hope our new members are having fun, too! 🙂

Until tomorrow, remember… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!

74 Comments »

  1. Great interview and post! I also loved the common sense advice, particularly about doing the work and being authentic about social media. Thank you so much! Happy birthday, Deborah! P.S. My little ones love THE QUIET BOOK, and I was so impressed with INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA.

  2. Happy birthday, Deborah! Thanks for taking the time to be a guest author and offering us your insights. I loved looking at your website and learning more about you. It’s a good thing you didn’t follow your dream to work in a piano factory :). I’m looking forward to reading The Panda Problem.

  3. Happy birthday, Deborah! 😀

    I love how you mentioned “do the work.” Do you have any recommendations for books about writing for kids?

  4. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday, Deborah! Thanks for sharing your story and your thoughts. It’s actually encouraging for me to hear someone say that this writing thing takes time and effort and practice, because I then I know I just need to keep at it. Just engaging with the NaPiBoWriWee community is helping the ideas flow, and making me find time to write in the busiest of days. Today I’m noticing that things I see around me spark ideas.

  5. “Leaving room for the illustrator” It is the hardest! At first I felt like I was giving someone else my story…..ouch it hurt…..bad. That feeling taught me lots and made me grow as a writer.

    Thank you
    holly

  6. So very true Deborah Underwood: “I think the most challenging part of writing picture books is leaving room for the illustrator—writing less, not more. In a novel, a lovely description pulls the reader into your world. In a picture book, it handcuffs the artist and limits options. I’ll never forget what Renata Liwska, the fabulous illustrator of The Quiet Book, told me: if a writer writes too much description, the illustrator feels like she’s tracing a line that’s already been drawn.”

  7. Love this: “You may hear about lightning-strike successes, but most people who succeed in this field do it through years and years of study, hard work, and persistence. (Darn it!)”

    Also love the tip about the Accelerated Reader Site

  8. Happy Birthday, Deborah!! Fantastic advice on “do the work”. Sometimes my critical mind can be a barrier from getting idea to page, and this is just what I needed to hear. 🙂

  9. Happy Birthday, Deborah!
    I’m off to the SCBWI MidWest Conference. And I didn’t have time to write anything this morning. So maybe, I can sneak in some time this evening. You know, instead of sleeping. Happy Friday!

  10. Happy Birthday, Deborah! I love the variety of formats you have utilized in your books. It’s a good reminder to always try something new. Off to write Day 3’s draft!

  11. Happy birthday! Thanks for the encouraging post. I absolutely adore The Panda Problem! Laughed out loud in the library parking lot because I just couldn’t wait until I got home to read it! Congratulations.

  12. Happy birthday, Deborah! A wonderful interview, and I too, love what Renata said about too much description handcuffing the illustrator. It helps me to understand my process, where I am doing both, writing and illustrating. The dance back and forth between writing words and making pictures is the most exciting part for me. Getting the first words on the page: WAY HARD!!!!!
    Thanks again for being there. (All these feline muses make me a little sad, since my feline muse is now a ghost muse, but she still inspires and guides me, none the less.)
    Of course, the world needs as many panda books as possible!

  13. Happy cake and candles day!

    I agree about the value of dipping into social media for the company, camaraderie and occasional inspiration . It is a convenient way to connect with others during what might otherwise be a heads-down, write- work- write kind of day.

  14. Happy Birthday Deborah!! I hope your day is wonderful. Thank you for your words of wisdom here and sharing your experience and lessons. THE PANDA PROBLEM looks adorable! I added that and BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT to my TBR list.

    As for my writing, I had many ideas in my head, topics but when it came to writing a story I blanked, I could not put word after word in an order that I liked. I ended up with a paper full of scribbles. I instead went to the library and check out some children’s books to read with my kids and be inspired by.

    Does composing newsletters and writing fundraising plans count for the daily writing? It’s not a book but I did manage to write out these today!

  15. Happy birthday, Deborah!! “Do the work” is some of the best advice ever–thank you for acknowledging that this is hard work but we’re not going to get anywhere without working hard.

  16. First—we LOVE Interstellar Cinderella. Second—yes to the giant time monster that is social media!! Thank you for saying that. It’s fun, but I can spend a lot of time on it without realizing it. Thank you for the interview! I am so enjoying this.

  17. Thank you Deborah and Paula. Okay back to book #3 (#1 completed, #2 – not so much) – but writing on.

  18. Happy birthday! For persistence and perseverance, my favorite quote is from Galaxy Quest: Never give up! Never surrender!

  19. Happy Birthday Deborah ! I appreciate the encouragement and simple advice to keep working hard. Sometimes it’s hard to give credit to the process. Story #3 is still only a start so, back to it!

  20. Happy Birthday, Deborah! Thanks for sharing! I was strolling my Facebook timeline and found an idea to write about for Day 3. This morning I didn’t have any idea to write about, but after reading today’s Author Spotlight I got something to write. It is something I have wanted to put in a book for years.

  21. Finished several versions of my #3 draft, but it’s TERRIBLE. I’ve been wanting to write this book for so long and though I’m still slogging through research, I thought I was somewhat ready to tackle it. Ugh. It’s just not flowing today, but that’s OK, because thankfully I love revisions. Of course, in this case, I think I’ll need to scrap it all and just try again 🙂 Thanks for this writing challenge. I would not have gotten through the draft if it weren’t NaPi week. I know I’ll be better for it. Thank-you SO MUCH!

  22. I love this: “If a writer writes too much description, the illustrator feels like she’s tracing a line that’s already been drawn.”
    Great to keep in mind.
    Thanks for another inspiring post.

  23. Happy Birthday Deborah! What a great interview. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. When it comes to writing, I am new to this buckling down and just doing the work. It was helpful to read your thoughts. Thank you.

  24. First:
    (singing) Happy Birthday to You…
    Happy Birthday to You…Happy Birthday…Happy Birthday…Happy Birthday toooo Youuuuu! 🎂
    And thank you so much…”Do the Work” is going to be my mantra.
    I get sidetrack with social media and from now I’m going to put that on the back burner and get my work done first.

  25. Happy Birthday, Deborah! Thanks for sharing your wisdom! You are so right–it takes a lot of work and persistence to write well. I like your advice about social media–to do what feels right for you. Thanks, and again, happy birthday!

  26. Happy birthday Deborah! Great advice all round. We’re Australian fans of yours as our friend from the US (Mimi) has given us many signed copies of your books. Thanks for creating such great books for kids!

    • Oh, how lovely! It’s been so fun for me to reconnect with a childhood friend. Glad you’re enjoying the books!

  27. Deborah: HAPPY BELATED B-DAY!!! I HOPE IT WAS AMAZING!!! THANK YOU for your wise words. I was especially inspired through the visual imagery you used to describe how wordiness in pic books is limiting to the illustrator. I can TOTALLY see this! This is what I struggle with the most in my writing, so–THANK YOU!!! My third day was rough–again. Being a bit under the weather made it EXTRA DIFFICULT to feel like writing. But as the 11th hour (literally!!!) came around–AGAIN!!!–I pushed myself–and I DID IT!!! SO PROUD!!! THANK YOU for the PUSH, Paula and Gang!!! KEEP on Writin’ on!!!

  28. I am a day late, Deborah, but I did write yesterday, your birthday! Birthday Cat hopes you had a great day! I agree that we don’t want to handcuff our partners, the illustrators. Paula, I’m glad your process for this week is working out so far. Woot.

  29. Happy Birthday, Deborah! Hope you had a wonderful day.
    Thanks for sharing. I like “experiment, but be yourself” about social media.

  30. What a great comment from Renata Liwska about too much description making the illustration feel like they’re tracing lines already drawn – thank you for sharing that. It made a wonderful mental image for me. Do the work – great reminder.

  31. Great post, Deborah! Hope you had a fantastic birthday! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your writing life and I agree 100 % writing is hard work!!

    One of my favorite quotes comes from Sinclair Lewis who said, ” Writing is just work — there’s no secret. If you dictate, or use a pen, or type with your toes, — it is just work.”

    I love your Cat books and have them all!!

  32. Such an interesting post. I had no idea how important to keep up with social media. Thanks for this head’s up. Loved all of your suggestions. “Less is more in picture book success, I think I am finally getting it.

    Thanks,
    Diane

  33. Happy birthday!🎉

    Thank you for sharing your Illustrator’s words about retracing, that’s a perfect analogy! I also really appreciate your advice on social media, I definitely agree. I haven’t taken the time ti figure out Instagram, but I love the writing communities I’ve become a part of on FB amd Twitter!

  34. And, of course, I wish you a happy happy day. I love birthdays. I just reread the posts and now I’m off to check out your web site. Thanks again.

  35. Happy birthday Deborah! Thank you for your words of wisdom to help guide me through the picture book writing world.
    I really enjoy your books and look forward to reading The Panda Problem.
    Time for me to write.

  36. HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY, DEBORAH!
    Day 3. I did not get a draft written this day with company arriving promptly after my work day ended. I think I need to be sneaky fitting in writing moments on the fly…
    I don’t get Twitter either, but I do try, and I definitely get inspired by others’ tweets.

  37. I’m running behind on reading posts, but HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, Deborah! I love this: “In a novel, a lovely description pulls the reader into your world. In a picture book, it handcuffs the artist and limits options.”

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