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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Bea Birdsong

Today I have the pleasure of featuring a debut picture book author, Bea Birdsong.

Bea is a former teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and rescue dog named Bilbo. She spends her free time reading, traveling, and searching for hidden doors to other worlds. Her debut picture book, I Will Be Fierce, releases April 23rd.

Welcome Bea,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

BEA: I started working as a freelance writer and editor for the education market in 2010. It was a fantastic way to hone my skills as a writer and gain experience working with publishing professionals. After a few years of being a working writer, I decided to push myself to develop my skills in a different direction by writing a book. I started with a middle-grade fantasy, but picture books kept popping into my head. Picture books, especially ones like I Will Be Fierce that can be enjoyed by readers of any age, are my favorite type of book to write. I have an office in my house where I write. Because I still take on some freelance projects, I usually write every day.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I would love to collaborate with another author on a book or even a series. That’s not something I’ve put out into the universe before, but it is something I’ve thought about for a long time.

It's fun you chose this interview to put this out there. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the Chronicles of Narnia series) by C. S. Lewis. I read the whole series over and over again. The idea of stepping through a door into another world was enchanting to me then, and it still is today. It’s what we do every time we open a book.

I loved that book too and totally would join you walking through that door. Where did the idea for I Will Be Fierce come from? Did that core idea change as you wrote or during revisions?

I was a quiet, shy, anxious child. The one place I felt free—where I was not afraid to answer the call to adventure—was in the pages of books. Stories helped me feel seen and heard. They helped me know I mattered. What if children could carry that feeling with them out into the world? The first glimpse I had of I Will Be Fierce was a vision of a child reluctantly boarding a school bus accompanied by the line “I will charge the many-headed serpent.” From that initial picture, the story grew quickly because even an ordinary day at school can be an epic quest for a child. That core idea never changed.

I still enjoy "hiding" in a book world, to experience something new or escape for a bit. How long were you writing and submitting before you signed with your agent, Melissa Edwards? Any hints for those still seeking an agent?

After I wrote I Will Be Fierce, my critique partners urged me to send it out into the world. I sent query letters to four agents, and I signed with Melissa soon afterwards. It happened very quickly for me, and I think that was in part because I only queried agents who had expressed an interest in books that sounded like mine. I looked at the hashtag MSWL on Twitter, and I chose those four agents because each one had asked to see books that matched the description “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Melissa had also asked to see “Something joyful.” Those two descriptions put together perfectly match I Will Be Fierce. So, my advice for writers seeking an agent is to do your research. There’s so much information available now, and most agents are not shy about sharing what they want to see in their inboxes.

What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for I Will Be Fierce?

The most rewarding part of the publishing process so far was participating in the Whirlikids Book Fest. It was my first opportunity to read my book to an audience and meet some young readers. Seeing kids’ reactions to I Will Be Fierce was so wonderful! I will always remember it!

Definitely something to cherish. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from I Will Be Fierce?

I hope I Will Be Fierce helps readers recognize their inner fierceness! I hope they will feel empowered to chart their own course, stand up for their beliefs, and claim their place as the hero of their life story. I want readers to know it is not only okay, but necessary, that they take an active role in their lives and in their communities. When readers turn the final page, I hope they feel confident, courageous, and ready to take on the world.

As much of the story is in the illustrations, and could have been set in a medieval or other setting, did you include any illustration notes? Did any of the illustrations surprise you?

Yes, I had an art note for every line of the story. I had heard the oft-repeated advice to only include art notes if they are absolutely necessary, and in this case, they were! Most of the illustrations match my art notes, but the illustrator of I Will Be Fierce, Nidhi Chanani, definitely added her own creative twist to the book. For example, Nidhi came up with the idea to have Fierce Girl blow bubbles to “drive back the dragons.” My art note had her tossing a pancake (taken from her breakfast plate). Nidhi also included my son and me in several of the illustrations. That was a wonderful surprise, and I am so happy with the finished book!

Interesting. How many drafts, or revisions, did I Will Be Fierce take? Did you have to revise the words after Nidhi finished the illustrations?

I Will Be Fierce went through three drafts. I sent out the first draft with my query letter. After I signed with my agent, Melissa, she suggested making it a bit longer. The first draft had 126 words, and I brought it up to 150 words before it went out on submission. Once we signed the deal with Roaring Brook Press, my editor, Connie Hsu, suggested rearranging some of the lines and making it longer still. The finished book has 189 words. Thinking back, I believe the only revision that was based on Nidhi’s illustrations was changing “drive back the dragon” to “drive back the dragons” because the art showed a whole pack of dogs rather than the one dog I originally had in mind.

Seems like you both were definitely on the same page. Can you tell us a little about your second picture book, Sam’s First Word?

Sam is a newish baby whose every accomplishment has been met with great fanfare by the big people in her life. Now, the big people are waiting for Sam to say her first word. Sam knows exactly what she (urgently) needs to say, but first she must endure her family’s humorous attempts to make each of their names her first word. This book will be published by Little, Brown Young Readers in February 2021. Deirdre Jones is the editor and Holly Hatam is the illustrator, and I’m so thrilled to work with both of them!

This book sounds fun. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I have some other picture books in the works, and I am writing a chapter book series about two sisters. I am very close with my sister, and I always knew at some point the spirit of our relationship would make its way into my stories.

Is there anything about writing or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or maybe something you are glad you hadn’t known at the time?

I wish I’d known there is no such thing as perfect writing. I am my own worst critic. In the last couple of years, I’ve learned you should strive to improve your writing through revision, instruction, and constructive critiques, but then you need to send it out into the world. No piece of writing will ever be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be amazing. The one thing I’m glad I didn’t know is how long everything takes! Looking at the big picture, I know everything has happened relatively quickly for me, but it doesn’t feel like it when I’m waiting to hear about a submission or waiting for a deal to be announced or waiting for any of the other milestone moments along the way.

Seems even when things move quickly, time still isn't a friend in publishing. What have you learned from your critique buddies over the years?

Critique partners are so important! I’ve learned a lot from mine, but the most important thing I’ve gained from being part of my critique group is the courage to share my work with the world. I had no intention of querying agents in the spring of 2017. I had a vague idea I would query eventually, but certainly not right then. After I submitted I Will Be Fierce for critique, two of my critique partners got in touch to say I needed to send it out right away. At the meeting that week, the rest of my group agreed. It is because of their belief in my story that I signed with my agent, Melissa, and went on to sign my first book deal.

You needed to learn to be fierce yourself. What is your favorite animal? Why?

My favorite animal is a dog. There are so many animals I love, but my rescue dog, Bilbo, has stolen my heart. He is my constant companion. If you pay attention, a dog will teach you how to live your best life: share your feelings with others, appreciate every moment, and love with your whole heart.

Thank you Bea for stopping by to chat with me.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on I Will Be Fierce!

To find out more about Bea Birdsong, or get in touch with her:

Here are a list of places and events where you can meet Bea Birdsong:

- Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green, KY on April 26-27, 2019.

- Union Ave Books in Knoxville, TN on April 28, 2019

- Book Launch of I Will Be Fierce at Wonderland Bookshop in Greensboro, NC on May 11, 2019!

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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