The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with James Gladstone
I have the privilege to introduce you to Canadian author James Gladstone. James lives in Toronto, Ontario. He is an editor and author of books for children, whose frequent visits to Allan Gardens in Toronto inspired Turtle Pond.
ME: Welcome James. Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
JAMES: I’ve only written picture books, so I guess that’s my favourite type of book to write!
I started writing PB manuscripts about 10 years ago. When I had free time between other jobs as an editor (of school resources), I thought I’d apply some ideas that interested me to PBs.
I write at home, mostly; sometimes I write in a library. I tend to write early in the morning or very late at night—even when I’m falling asleep. Then I have to get up and make notes. I am most disappointed when the writing that interrupts my sleep doesn’t get published!
I edit my material during the day, when my brain is working more rationally.
Those late-night ideas always seem so amazing, until the next morning. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I listen to a lot of J.S. Bach’s keyboard music.
Where did the inspiration for Turtle Pond come from?
Allan Gardens in Toronto has a lovely little pond filled with turtles, big and small. I’ve visited Allan Gardens my entire life, more so in the past 10 years. I knew I wanted to write about the turtles but didn’t know how to approach it for the longest time. Then one day, sort of out of the blue, I knew how to write it. That was a good day.
Inspiration is such a fickle thing. But I am glad you figured out how to write this beautiful book. How does Turtle Pond differ from your first book When Planet Earth was New (September 2017)?
Turtle Pond is a book of the “moment”—something that was right in front of my eyes. And so, I was able to write it with greater immediacy, with little research other than just being there with the turtles and the turtle-watchers.
When Planet Earth Was New had a moment of inspiration in terms of an image that prompted the first sentence or two and the “hook.” Essentially, though, it was a book that required a lot of time and research. Some folks find this surprising, given that there are so few words, but honestly, it took months to write.
Turtle Pond is described as a “prose poem” and When Planet Earth was New is called a “free verse” or “poetic approach” to science. How would you describe this type of poetry? How difficult is it to write?
I suppose the “prose poem” came more naturally, but there is always the effort in finding the best words to fit into the established rhythm.
The “poetic approach” to science was harder, simply because I was trying to write text that “flowed” on a subject that needed to be as factually correct as possible. So, whenever I found I had got a basic fact wrong, I might have to change two or three words, which then might cause me to question other bits, leading me to re-write other sentences.
Nonfiction is hard enough to write, kudos for managing it poetically. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I really liked my Nutshell Library, so I’d probably have to go with Sendak. Oh, and Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie. I loved reading those poems. And fairy tales. I loved fairy tales, but my practical side—the side that now writes about “sciency” subjects—could never figure out why fairy tales were so extreme in almost every sense. They weren’t so much enchanting to me as mystifying, but it worked, because I kept reading them.
Exploring Dennis Lee's Poems, I see the influence in your writing. You have another book releasing soon, My Winter City, do you see a common theme in your books? (either poetic style of writing and/or nature/science based?)
Writing style: There is definitely a rhythmic style to much of my writing. I wrote songs for years when I was younger, so I think that’s where it comes from.
I have another book coming out before My Winter City. It’s called Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World. It’s more prose-like in style, but still has a lilt to it. Or perhaps it doesn’t. You’ll have to read it and tell me!
Subjects: I am a bit all over the map with the subjects I choose. I have many interests, so I write about different things. And of course, the public only see the books (and my interests) that get published.
That's an interesting point. So, in a way, what we view as "an author's body of work" may be more defined by the editors/publishers than the author. What’s the hardest thing about having three books release within about a year?
Knowing that it won’t likely happen again! This really was just a fluke of timing. Sometimes good things happen.
Well then, here's to another "fluke in timing" for you. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)
I’m not sure I had much “inspiration” as a child other than to play outside and listen to The Beatles.
Now I’m inspired by the incredibly vast number of great PBs that are published, seemingly every week. So as an adult, it’s not one writer that inspires me; it’s many. Just as I am inspired by the many ideas I find in books, magazines, and walking around outside.
Do you have a favorite among your books? (We promise not to tell the others.)
That’s not so easy to answer, because to me they are all different. There are qualities about all of them I love—mostly to do with the illustrations (which I don’t make). Probably my fave is Turtle Pond, though that choice is less about the book itself and more about Allan Gardens and turtles and the way the writing came to me. It was one of those little gifts that come to a writer from time to time.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Turtle Pond?
It’s all true. The turtles are there. It’s a real place. And they do all those turtle things.
What a fun way to write nonfiction, where the actual "viewpoint" is explained through the illustrations. The text could be anyone, the illustrations show it's a curious, watchful child. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Not to be too vague or anything, but I’m working on a book about something that flies very fast! And I’m also working on a book that has a really big storm!
Very tantalizing. Do you have any advice on querying agents, surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors or illustrators?
Rejection: You have to really love making things or it’s not worth writing, because the rejection always hurts a bit, and there’s a lot of it. But you also get used to it as part of the professional process. Also, all the rejection helps me to know that when something is actually accepted for publication, it probably is going to make a good book.
Success: Enjoy it, of course, but keep working, because it could take a long time until you get another round of success!
Querying: Well, you have to follow their directions for submissions. And you need to have patience. That’s about it. Actually, more than patience, you need to keep working; otherwise, the waiting may drive you to distraction. Or go to a movie and relax.
Great advice - love to write (or illustrate) and keep doing it, even as you begin to succeed. What is your favorite animal? Why?
At the moment, turtles: they gave me Turtle Pond.
Thank you, James for taking the time to visit with me and share with us about your books and your journey.
Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF Post on Turtle Pond.
If you wish to learn more about James Gladstone, or to contact him: