Howdy! If you read and comment on this post by Friday, October 15th at 11 pm CST, you'll be entered in TeachingAuthors' newest book giveaway to win today's interviewee's--Candace Ryan's--wonderfully inventive and wildly playful picture book, ANIMAL HOUSE, illustrated by Nathan Hale.
Some students make almost no impression on their teachers. Candace Ryan made a mighty impression on me. In 2007, about half-way through my UCLA Extension course,"Writing The Children's Picture Book" I remember thinking, "This woman is SO determined, SO focused and takes this field SO seriously, it's just a matter of time before she's published...and then, WATCH OUT WORLD!" Boy, was I right!
Candace Ryan, former student, now friend and colleague. Candace lives and works in a Los Angeles-based toy museum curated by her 5 year-old son. She tinkers with words when she can find her pen in a pile of robots and Japanese monsters.As head of her department, Candace is in charge of cataloging and organizing the museum’s extensive collection of owl, bat, and octopus toys. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it sure is rewarding.
In her dwindling free time, Candace prefers splitting infinitives over splitting atoms. Clunky puns give her a splitting headache. And she wishes there was some way to share a banana split with Dr. Seuss and Rene Magritte in a Japanese tea garden.
ANIMAL HOUSE, illustrated by Nathan Hale and published by Walker and Company, is Candace’s first picture book. As you can tell from the cover, the main character Jamie's house is alive--with puns! Jamie's teacher discovers that his "living room is truly a living room," complete with "floormingos," a "chandeldeer," "armapillows" and MUCH more. Kirkus raves, "Ryan has so much fun coming up with increasingly ridiculous wildlife that it’s to Hale’s credit that his fine-tipped acrylics can keep up with the punny pandemonium. This book will stand up to multiple rereadings."
Candace's second book, RIBBIT RABBIT, will be published in 2011 by Walker/Bloomsbury.
Thanks for coming by, Candace! What’s the story behind your book? How did it come about?
Actually, it all started with my son’s box of dinosaur magnets. The outside of the box lists all of the dinosaurs in the set. I happened to be reading the list one day and discovered a pattern.
My curiosity led me to search for similar patterns in animal names. As soon as I had about a dozen puns that fit the "animal-plus-furniture" formula, I knew I was onto something. By the way, if all of this sounds kind of scientific or mathematical, welcome to the way my brain works. I’m proud to make a poet-like statement when I say that ANIMAL HOUSE began with language, not story.
I submitted a very rudimentary version of ANIMAL HOUSE in your picture book writing class at UCLA and was encouraged by your positive feedback. Within weeks, I cold-queried an agent with the manuscript. A few months and several revisions later, I had an agent and my first book deal.
|Author Candace Ryan submitting a manuscript|
in the shape of a...what is that?
Because I have an agent, she’s the primary strategist when it comes to submitting my work. Based on her knowledge of editors’ tastes and needs, she develops sublists for my manuscripts. Not all of my work is in the same vein as ANIMAL HOUSE, so there’s a fair amount of strategy involved in determining which editors would make the best fit.
How do you balance your personal life with your writing, marketing, blogging, etc.? (And believe me, Candace does a LOT of great PR and generously gives of herself to others throughout the kidlitosphere.) My number one priority is my personal life. When I feel there’s sufficient balance there, I can allow myself to go crazy trying to figure out the rest. And it does drive me crazy. I never feel like I’m doing enough in any one area of the writing business.
I’m one of those easily-overwhelmed, over-stimulated types. But I try not to be too hard on myself. My main goal is to always have fun and enjoy what I’m doing.
Hooray for making your personal life a top priority! What inspired you to sign up for my class?
I had been writing picture book manuscripts for a couple of years, but switched gears when I wasn’t experiencing much success. I spent another couple of years trying to break into adult writing genres– from personal essays to experimental nonfiction.
Then, in one catalyzing evening during 2007 (the details of which cannot be shared, lest you think me truly a writer of fiction), everything changed. When I reflected on that evening, I finally accepted who I was as a writer. I’m a writer of children’s literature. It’s where my voice and playful spirit have always belonged.
Within a month’s time, I was signed up for your class, and I’ve never looked back.
Oooh...I'd really like to know more about that one catalyzing evening! Maybe you could blog about it? Meanwhile...do you recall any specific ways the class helped you? (This could help me with the class I'm teaching now ~) To begin with, the class atmosphere was so nurturing and stimulating, that participating in the all-too-brief six weeks was a real spirit-booster for me.
I felt safe enough to take creative risks and experiment with language and story structure like I had never done before. It was a very happy, productive time for me.
I also learned that there was more to the business of writing picture books than just writing them. By having to read scores of picture books on a weekly basis, critiquing other students’ manuscripts, and journaling, I realized that there were other exercises that could strengthen my writing, besides working on craft alone.
In the past, I had always written in a vacuum. Interacting with others in the class helped me recognize the importance of collegiality and networking. When the class ended, some of us even formed a critique group together. Although short-lived, the critique group itself was also a wonderful learning experience.
Finally, the course formalized and put a spotlight on the concept of counterpoint, or irony, in picture books. It made me realize that I had always been fascinated by illustrations that show something that’s not in the text, and by text that is saying something that’s not in the illustrations (think Ellen Raskin’s NOTHING EVER HAPPENS ON MY BLOCK).
It’s a fun challenge as a picture book author to write texts that play with counterpoint.
And--sakes alive! You already have another book coming out! Tell us about it!
My next book is RIBBIT RABBIT, a short picture book for the younger set. Here’s a teaser from the back cover:
"Frog and Bunny are best friends.
Ribbit Rabbit. Rabbit Ribbit.
But what happens when they get in a fight?
Ribbit Rabbit. Yip it, yap it.
You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Ribbit Rabbit. Grip it, grab it."
It sounds terrific--and as energetic as you--I can't wait to read it! Here's a recent post about you and your book on author/illustrator Diane Browning's blog, Out Of The Paintbox. Anything else you'd like to share?
I recently received exciting news that there will be a Bloomsbury U.K. edition of the book, and Walker has selected it as a lead title.
Wowee--and congratulations, Candace! I know we'll be hearing thundering hooves from your many books in the future. Thank you for sharing with our TeachingAuthors readers ~ and for personally autographing a book for our lucky winner!
Readers--remember to comment here to be entered in the book giveaway, which closes Friday, Oct. 15th at 11 pm CST. Good luck to all!