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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Pat Zietlow Miller

She's back!

I just couldn't resist doing a second interview of Pat Zietlow Miller when she announced the book cover of When You Are Brave. I fell in love with the starry butterfly wings and the confident stance of the little girl. I was dying to know the inspiration and inside story of this book.

Welcome back, Pat! It is so exciting that your tenth book When You Are Brave releases tomorrow!

For additional information on Pat, and her nine other books, see our earlier interview, on February 4, 2019 (here).

How does When You Are Brave differ from your other picture books?

When You Are Brave is, perhaps more than any of my other books, the book that I needed most as a kid. So that makes it special to me. And I hope it will speak to other kids – and adults – out there who sometimes feel anxious or worried or scared or unsure.

It definitely spoke to me and I would be willing to bet it will speak to many others. Especially since Kirkus compared it to Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López’s The Day You Begin. What was the inspiration for When You Are Brave?

I wrote this book as a bit of a pep talk to myself when I was going through a rough spot in my life. I didn’t sit down to write a picture book. I just started typing the words I needed to hear at that moment. Then, as I went along, I realized others might benefit from hearing them, too.

Perhaps, that's what makes it so special. Did you draft Remarkably You or When You Are Brave first? Which one was the toughest to write and/or revise?

Remarkably You was drafted at least a year before When You are Brave. And it also was the toughest to write and revise. Remarkably You followed a very traditional picture book creation process for me with lots of revision and rework before I got it right. And, it rhymed, which as I’ve said before, adds a layer of complication to everything.

When You are Brave flowed much more easily. Maybe because I thought I was writing just for myself. It came out very close to how it looks in the book. There was some revising, of course, but of all my books, this had one of the easiest creation processes.

We're always told to write our passion; write what we know. Maybe we should add - write what we need (or needed) to hear. Is there something you want your readers to know about When You Are Brave?

That everyone has bravery inside them. And, that while it’s a book about being brave, it’s also a book about mindfulness – about knowing yourself and listening to yourself so you can use your inner strength to get through whatever happens in your life.

Oh, and PLEASE, look at the endpapers on this book. They are lovely, and all the credit goes to Eliza Wheeler.

I totally agree. And also don't forget to look at the cover under the dust jacket for a wonderful surprise. Since this is your second book with Eliza Wheeler, did the amount of contact, or input, you had differ?

Eliza and I met and became friends after our first book, Wherever You Go, came out. She is extraordinarily talented and also one of the nicest people I know. But we purposefully didn’t talk about the second book at all. We wanted to give each other space to do our own thing. And when I saw her work, it was more amazing than I ever could have imagined. The girl on the cover could have been me, although I know that wasn’t Eliza’s intention.

Eliza and I are going to do two bookstore events for When You Are Brave.

  • March 9th at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota.

  • March 23rd at Mystery to Me: An Independent Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin.

That will give us the chance to talk about why we each did the things we did as this book was created.

I truly wish I lived closer and could attend. What remarkable book talks these will be! Do the rejections get less as time goes on? What about the number of revisions - do these vary depending on the manuscript or do they get fewer as you publish more books?

Rejections and revisions are hard to predict. I just sold a book called In Our Garden that I adore, and I probably did more rounds of revision on that book than any other book I’ve written so far. I thought it would never end. But I also knew that the work would result in the best possible book, so that helped.

The same thing goes with rejections. They still come. Some books sell right away. Others get rejected a few – or many – times and then find a home. Some never land anywhere. There was a book my agent and I really liked that we were quite sure would sell, and it hasn’t, despite some close calls. And it might not. I’m still glad I wrote it.

The only change I’ve noticed as a published author is that sometimes, now, editors ask me to write on a certain topic. That certainly wasn’t the case before.

So, just like a child, each book has its own "cooking" time. But it is nice to know there may be something positive that comes from rounds of rejections. How did you get involved with the Picture Book Builder’s Blog? What is the biggest benefit, and/or disadvantage, to a group blog?

My friend, Jill Esbaum, came up with the idea for this blog. She wanted to get picture book creators together to write about books they love and explain why they worked. So our posts are a bit of a book review and a bit of a focus on the craft of writing.

The benefit of a group blog is that the workload is shared. We can have new content without one person having to constantly produce it. And, I get to see what books inspire my fellow bloggers. (A shout-out to Jill, Linda Ashman, Kevan Atteberry, Mike Boldt, Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Tammi Sauer, and Suzanne Slade!)

Look closely at those names again and zoom over and subscribe to their blog if you haven't already. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?

Lately, I’ve struggled with balance. Fitting in my regular job, my writing, my promotions and my administrative tasks plus being there for my family and taking care of me. It took me too long to figure out that I couldn’t do it all and to make some tough choices about where I really enjoy spending my time.

I had myself way over-scheduled and over-committed, and I’m only just now saying, “No, thank-you” to things that drain me rather than energize me. My advice: When you see all the things different writers do, it’s easy to think you have to do all those things too. But you don’t. You have to find the blend that works for you.

Great advice. I am glad you are finding your balance. I would hate for you to burn out and stop creating such amazing books! Is there anything you’ve wished an interviewer would ask you?

I always like to talk about what I think makes a good picture book. There are, of course, whole classes on what it takes to make a good picture book. But, to me, good picture books do these things flawlessly:

Show what it’s like to be a child. Picture books are written by adults. But they fail if those adults can’t get into the heads of children and reflect what’s there on the page in an engaging, relatable way;

Include a universal truth. A universal truth is an experience that makes any reader of any age think, “Oh … I’ve felt like that before.” It reminds us of our common humanity; and

Sound good when they’re read out loud. Good picture books – whether they rhyme or not – have a flow of language that makes them fun to read out loud. They clip along at an appealing pace and use wordplay, pauses and voice to keep the listener engaged.

There are thousands of ways to effectively do all these things, which is what make creating picture books so much fun.

Thank you, Pat, for this great mini tutorial on picture books and for coming by again. It is always a pleasure to talk with you.

Be sure to stop back Friday for the #PPBF post on When You Are Brave.

To find out more about Pat Zietlow Miller or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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