It’s Sunday afternoon and my delightful winter break is drawing to a close. It’s time to emerge from the time-warp cocoon filled with too many cookies and delighted toddler shrieks. Wait, was that a delighted shriek or an injured shriek?
I’m sure they’ll be fine.
Back before I lost track of what day of the week it was, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite people, Ciara O’Neal, about her debut picture book: Flamingo Hugs Aren’t For Everyone, illustrated by Alicia Young.
If you haven’t met Ciara and you are willing to take one piece of advice from me: get on that ASAP. Ciara is a mother of five, master of words, and lover of doughnuts. When she isn’t shaping hearts and lives in the house, she is bettering them in the classroom through teaching or in the world in general through writing hilarious stories with a big message. I am humbled and delighted to call her a friend, critique partner and my first ever interviewee! (Happy dance commence!!)
Nicole: Thank you so much for being my first interviewee and congratulations on your book! I know from your other interviews that this story was actually inspired by a trip to the ER for your daughter. I have found your ability to turn lemons into lemonade to be very uplifting in your writing, your writing feedback, and in the friendship you offer others. Do you have any secrets for how you are able to see the positive in life so often?
Ciara: Find the funny. Life has more than its fair share of bumps. On the bad days, find a favorite comedian and let the chuckles begin. Find the humor in your current situation and keep moving forward.
Nicole: Excellent advice! Laughter can ease so many aches. Moving on to your debut(!!!!!); what was your favorite part about writing Flamingo Hugs Aren’t For Everyone?
Ciara: Oh! That’s a tough one! Flaminga is near and dear because her character and flaws are a blend of my daughter and me. I guess that means the brainstorming phase where we laughed and giggled.
Nicole: Laughter again, such a theme for you. After the brainstorming, I’m curious about how many drafts of this story you went through.
Ciara: Ummmmmm… A thousand? No, really, I think I have about 14 versions on my hard drive. Even after this story was illustrated, I revised it. I realized I didn’t need several sentences because they were apparent in the illustrations. After I had my test copy, I tried out my book in some of my friends’ classrooms. Even though the kids enjoyed the wordplay and jokes, I realized I lost them in the middle due to much wordiness. So snip, snip, snip.
Nicole: Ah words, the picture book authors biggest love and biggest struggle. Speaking of struggles, what was the hardest part about this book’s journey?
Ciara: I think killing my darlings was the most difficult part of this journey. Flaminga’s story was 1,200 words in the beginning. Now she sits about 700 words.
Nicole: Whoa, excellent editing! Did Flaminga teach you anything along the way?
Ciara: Working with my illustrator, I realized that the pictures of Flaminga were just as important as the words. Alicia’s illustrations brought my clumsy flamingo to life, we worked closely together to make sure the words danced with the illustration as opposed to being two separate parts.
Nicole: That’s wonderful that you were able to work so closely. The pictures and words really do create a gorgeous kind of magic in this story. I know there are so many writers out there hoping to create their own published magic. What advice would you give pre-published picture book writers?
Ciara: Don’t get too attached to any particular manuscript. Write, revise, start something new. Challenge yourself to try different styles, themes, ideas. It will make you a better writer. Besides, you never know which manuscript is going to be the one that lands you an agent or a book deal. But being honest, the manuscript that gets published most likely won’t be the first book you write.
Nicole: It can be a hard pill to swallow but you definitely speak the truth! What’s another important truth you’ve learned about being a human being thus far?
Ciara: EVERYONE is going through SOMETHING. Sprinkle kindness like your decorating doughnuts and be just as sweet!
Nicole: I know for a fact that you live this advice! Writers often want to make an impact beyond the words they leave on the page for their readers. If you could plant one seed in the heart of your readers over the course of your writing journey, what would it be?
Ciara: You are worthy of being loved exactly for who you are right now. Right this minute. Not for who you will be, or who you want to be, but the you in the mirror at this exact moment.
Nicole: Thank you so much, Ciara! And congratulations again!
Isn’t she amazing? Her book makes my household happy and in an effort to sprinkle a little more kindness in the world, I am so excited to be giving away 2 copies of Flamingo Hugs Aren’t For Everyone.
To enter: comment below, follow Ciara on twitter, and re-tweet or reblog to sprinkle the love even more!
2 lucky winners will be announced via twitter on Sunday, January 12th!