EXHAUSTED? I bet you are! But doesn’t it feel GREAT? You wrote 7 picture books in 7 days! And for those of you who fell short of the mark, you still TRIED. And that’s what counts. I hope you take away from this experience a sense of pride and accomplishment for having lived the life of a REAL writer who writes as often as possible, hopefully every day. And I hope you have walked away with at least one jewel – if not more – amongst your 7 books that you can polish until it shines like a diamond!
Speaking of diamonds, today’s extra Guest Author blog spotlights talented author SUDIPTA BARDHAN-QUALLEN. Sudipta has written many picture books including Tightrope Poppy, the High-Wire Pig, illustrated by Sarah Dillard; The Hog Prince, illustrated by Jason Wolff; and her latest book, Chicks Run Wild, illustrated by Ward Jenkins (Simon & Schuster 2011). She lives in New Jersey with her three children. But Sudipta did not start out as a writer. She’s a brainiac science expert (hello, she graduated with a degree in Biology from Caltech!). She’s a great example of a writer who has a wide variety of work and educational experience… aspiring children’s book writers are a diverse bunch!
(Keep reading after the jump for our interview with Sudipta…)
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen never thought she’d grow up to be a writer. As a child, she thought of being a doctor (but she’s afraid of blood), a lawyer (but she doesn’t like losing arguments), a carpenter (but she’s too clumsy), a model (but she likes eating too much), a presidential candidate (but she had a dissolute youth), a UN ambassador (the argument losing thing again)… almost everything but a writer.
In fact, in 2001, Sudipta was well on her way to NOT being a writer. She had graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 with a BS in Biology, spent a year in Boston, and then had returned to Caltech as a PhD candidate in developmental biology. Even the birth of her first child, Isabella, didn’t change Sudipta’s plans — she thought she’d take a long maternity leave then return to graduate school. Then, her daughter Brooklyn came along.
With two small children, Sudipta found herself less interested in biology as she was in parenting. And for the first time, she found that she had stories to tell, stories she wanted to share with her daughters, and she decided to try to get published.
After a half-dozen rejections, in 2003, Sudipta sold her first story to a children’s magazine, Highlights for Children.
Using her science background as a springboard, Sudipta began writing nonfiction for children. She has now written 18 nonfiction books for kids, ranging from science to history to biography.
Her first love, however, was always picture books, so using a facility with word play and a love for animals (especially pigs), Sudipta worked on a number of manuscripts. Her first picture book, Tightrope Poppy, the High-Wire Pig, illustrated by Sarah Dillard, about a proud pig who perseveres was published in 2006. This was followed in 2007 by The Mine-o-saur, illustrated by David Clark, in 2008 by Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency, illustrated by Courtney Martin, and in 2009 by The Hog Prince, illustrated by Jason Wolff. Just in the past year, Sudipta has celebrated the release of Quackenstein Hatches a Family, illustrated by Brian T. Jones and Chicks Run Wild, illustrated by Ward Jenkins. Sudipta has seven other picture books scheduled for the next few years, including Pirate Princess, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Half Pint Pete the Pirate, illustrated by Geraldo Valeria, and 2011′s Hampire, illustrated by Howard Fine. Her children, now including a son named Sawyer who was born in 2006, are a constant source of inspiration. Sudipta has heard the words “Mine! Mine! Mine!” shouted so many times that The Mine-o-saural most flowed out of her mind naturally. Watching her daughters devour donuts inspired Hampire, dress up playdates inspired Pirate Princess, and she refuses to admit what (or whose snoring) inspired Snoring Beauty.
As for The Hog Prince, well, any girl—including Sudipta—will tell you that you have to kiss a lot of hogs before you find what you want in life.
Sudipta visits schools all around the country to share her stories and experience, and teaches writing to children and adults. She lives in New Jersey with her family and an imaginary pony named Penny.
For more information on Sudipta, please check out her website here: http://www.sudipta.com/
Q&A WITH SUDIPTA BARDHAN-QUALLEN
– Where is the best place for you to write your books?
In my house, I designed a beautiful office with a desk facing a window with a lovely view of my yard. I decorated it with photos of my children and copies of my books, painted the room a soothing color, and added nice touches like a pink settee and soft cashmere throws. And so the best place for me to write is…barefoot in my bed upstairs, with the television on and surrounded by clutter.
–That sounds LOVELY! I’m curious, though… if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I really don’t know. I think I am very attracted to social/political causes, so I might work toward making changes to our society — though I would argue that the messages I put in my books have a lot to do with that same goal.
– Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Well, if I tell you, then everyone would know…. How about this? That I didn’t go to medical school not just because of the germs on sick people, but because I an such an emotional softie that it would have killed me to watch people suffer and not be able to do anything about it.
Or, perhaps….I’ve never had a “real” job in my life — first part-time stuff in college, then grad school, then writing. I buy my own health insurance.
– What was the most unusual job you ever had?
I worked in several research labs in my life, and some of my job responsibilities have included: microsurgery on chicken embryos, removing organs from mice, and growing liter upon liter of E. coli.
– WOW. I think you win for the Most Unusual Job contest. Now… please tell us about your most recent book, CHICKS RUN WILD. What inspired the idea? I think your book also makes for a great MOTHER’S DAY gift. (And Happy Mother’s Day, Sudipta!)
This book is a total autobiography. Every night, I kiss my children good night, I tuck them in, I turn off the lights, I shut the door…and five minutes later, I hear, “SHE’S TOUCHING ME!” Which would be less upsetting if my children didn’t have their own rooms.
I wrote this book in honor of the timeworn battle between parents and children at bedtime. But I also wrote it to make clear that while parents need to be PARENTS — the ones who make the rules and enforce them, it is very important that we be willing to be the partner in crime for our children as well. They’ll grow up to be great people because of the order you create — but they will love you more for your willingness to have a pillow fight with them after midnight. On occasion.
In terms of the publication, this book is a testament to networking. I met my editor at S&S years ago, and we have been trying to get a book together FOREVER. But it never seemed to work out — until six years later. Had I given up on her, CHICKS would never have been a reality.
– I love the origin of Chicks Run Wild! And that’s a great point re: networking. I’m glad your persistence paid off. If you could give one piece of writing advice for our NaPiBoWriWee participants, what would it be?
Start with character. In my opinion, a strong main character is the single most important thing for any book, whether it be a picture book, a chapter book, or a novel. With the main character in mind, the next step is to create flaws in the character. It is not enough to have someone likeable — after all, no one wants to read about little mister perfect who never does anything wrong or has anything bad happen to him. It is the character’s flaws that endear him to the reader. The last element to focus on is actually plot. It is thinking about the character and his flaws and trying to imagine what kind of logical problems those flaws might create — and also how those flaws may also redeem him – that creates the strongest plots.
I should also mention that with every book I work on, I carefully consider whether or not there is a way to work a platypus or a pig into the story. This is very important.
– LOL! I too agree a platypus or two (and a pig) are very important pieces of advice. I like your take on character and how a character creates the story. Finally… What inspired you to write picture books?
After my oldest, Isabella, was born, I took a sabbatical from graduate school in developmental neurobiology to spend a year with her. But then, 14 months after Isabella’s birth, I had a second child. At that point I decided that grad school was no longer in the cards because I wanted to raise my kids — but really wanted to be doing something that was ”mine,” that was not related to motherhood. I had this idea that I could write with two babies in the house. (This was a stupid idea, because you can’t do anything with two babies in the house!)
Every day, even now, I struggle with trying to figure out whether I am any good at this — so I suppose I haven’t really decided yet if this is what I want to do when I grow up! But what keeps me inspired is that, in my job, I get to create something from nothing. Most jobs involve pushing papers from one end of your desk to the other, or executing against someone else’s list of deliverables. In what I do, I start with what is in my mind and my heart and I turn it into something real, that hopefully will touch the lives of my readers.
– I think you are VERY good at this job! Do you have a favorite picture book or a picture book that most inspires you? If so, which one is it and why?
I suppose I have to choose one that was written by someone else, huh? This is a tough question, as the answer changes. How about I answer it in this way: the biggest compliment I can give another author is to say that I wish I had written his or her book — and the book I currently most wish I’d written is Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton. It is just the perfect, simple book that is infinitely re-readable.
Thanks again to Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen for her very thoughtful answers to our questions. Remember, you could win an autographed copy of her book, Chicks Run Wild, at the drawing!
The prize drawing announcement of the winners will be posted by 5 PM (PST) today. Please come back to see if you won! I will be drawing names from a hat at random. The prizes will include autographed copies of my two picture books, the IRA Notable Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low 2009) and goodies from our NaPiBoWriWee store (http://cafepress.com/napibowriwee). Other prizes will include signed books from all the authors who were interviewed for NaPiBoWriWee (Erin Eitter Kono, Ken Min, Katie Davis, Hope Vestergaard, Don Tate, Carolyn Crimi, Dan Santat, Janie Bynum, Lisa Wheeler, and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen) plus a free manuscript critique from author Tara Lazar.
Until then… Happy Writing! WRITE LKE YOU MEAN IT!