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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with John Hare

John Hare spent his youth in Kansas drawing comic strips about snakes, making spoof yearbooks to entertain his friends, and writing stories about a crime-fighting crocodile. After working as an art director and graphic designer, he picked up a brush and painted a scene for his son's nursery. That's when he realized he still wanted nothing more than to bring stories to life. A dad, illustrator, writer, armchair philosopher, self-proclaimed chef, latent runner, wannabee musician, and all-around goofball John Hare lives in Gladstone, Mo with his wife and two children.

He lives to get wrapped up in a good project and to give it the love and creativity that it deserves. His debut picture book, Field Trip to the Moon, releases tomorrow, May 14th.


Welcome John! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat about your books and writing.

ME: 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?)

John: I started writing stories in grade school for my own amusement. When friends began to pass the stories around, request taking them home, and asking if I was going to make more…I became hooked. These days I write either in my favorite chair when everyone’s asleep, or at my favorite library in the mornings. That said, some of my best writing comes after being at least a bit out of my comfort zone. Maybe a challenge that had me anxious but I saw it through, or a trip to a place I’ve never been to. My favorite type of book to write is picture books (because I’m an illustrator at heart) but I’d like to try my hand at a middle grade or early YA book.

Interesting nudge to your writing. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

When the pickles are all gone, I’m definitely having a sip of that juice.

Ha! How long were you illustrating &/or writing and submitting before you signed with your agent, Kendra Marcus? Any hints for those still seeking an agent?

I first submitted a story while in grade school. It was about a turtle that went on a nature walk. Surprisingly I received some very kind feedback! I have no doubt they were just being nice but it really put the idea in my head that maybe I could be a writer/illustrator.

My first “serious” submission was in 2009. It was a really bad story… when I look back on it I’m just shocked at the hubris I had to submit such a thing. At first the canned rejections were amusing, then they were discouraging, then they were motivating. A couple years later a friend and I submitted a story that he had wrote and I had illustrated. I still wasn’t doing my homework and didn’t know that a joint submission by a couple unknowns had little appeal. Still, things went better. The rejection letters received were personal instead of canned. Progress!

It’s around this point that I realized I had a lot to learn. I focused on illustration and landed a gig illustrating Notable Missourian chapter books for a university press. To improve my writing, I joined SCBWI and began to attend critique groups. It’s around this time that real improvement began to happen. In 2013 I decided to seek an agent. It took 2 or 3 years to succeed! Kendra rejected me at first but left the door cracked open with a suggestion of a pretty major revision to the story I had submitted to her. I think I surprised her when I made the revision and resubmitted. That’s when I got the call.

The advice I’d give myself if I could go back in time to pre-agent/pre-published John - I’d say don’t send an idea that’s still rough and assume an agent or editor will “get it.” Make sure the idea reads! This is also why I’d recommend a good critique group. That said, back-in-time John wouldn’t have listened. I have a history of taking the long way around the barn.

I think that track 'round barn is pretty well worn. Where did the inspiration for Field Trip to the Moon come from? Did that core idea change as you started working out the dummy?

I get together with a group of fellow artists and illustrators every two weeks. Every now and then we’ll give ourselves a challenge. For example, sometimes we’d make a list short prompts, put them in a hat and randomly chose one from which we would try to come up with a picture book idea. One week the prompt was “Grey Crayon.” For whatever reason, I immediately thought of the moon.

What an awesome way to get a story idea. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Yes, turtles and lizards and snakes are great, but let them be great in the wild. No need to catch them and make them –and by extension, Mom – live miserably in the house.

Oh, I bet you were a handful! What medium did you use for Field Trip to the Moon? Did you have to do many revisions? Were these big revisions or “minor tweaks”?

I used acrylic paint on hard board. Most all the revisions were minor tweaks. My editor (Margaret Ferguson) and I worked hard to have the sketches nailed down before moving on to final art. It really saved me from a lot of revision headaches.

Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I loved Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are Friends. It was just soothing and great and human…. in an amphibious way. Maybe I just liked seeing frogs in pants.

Oh my [*chuckling*]. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Field Trip to the Moon?

There is a scene where the aliens are first trying to figure out how to use the crayons and one draws a mustache on the other. Originally in that scene, the alien, not sure what to do with the crayon, poked the other alien in the eye with it! It was slapstick and made me laugh but Margaret said eye poking was a no-go. So I changed it to where the alien draws a mustache on his friend. Somehow the other aliens reacting with horror to the mustache is even funnier!

© John Hare, 2019.

I love the idea of life on the moon! Where did the idea for the moon inhabitants come from?

I’ve always been fascinated by the moon. Scientists were originally worried that the lunar regolith (soil) might be so fine and unsettled that a lander might sink into it like quicksand. That notion fascinated me, and I began to wonder what creatures might live in such an environment.

Many illustrators leave treasures throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Field Trip to the Moon? Could you share a few with us?

Not to any great extent. Although you can see some of the alien heads poking out of the regolith well before they’re an active part of the story.

What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)

I’m never great with this question because it feels a bit like a moving target. I’m always being inspired by new people and things. But I can pretty safely say family and nature always work to inspire me.

Seems like a pretty good answer to me. Assuming you have some, what is something you learned from your critique partners?

I have the best critique partners! We call ourselves The Remarkable Monkeys. And as much as we enjoy critiquing each other’s work, we also act as a support group. There’s an isolating aspect to working as a writer or illustrator. It's good to find people in similar situations and get together regularly! I would highly encourage it.

Anyways, I’ve learned I’m not always right. I’m not even often right. I’ve also learned that occasionally… I’m right! Also, sometimes that one little scene that I’m super attached to does nothing to advance the story and I need to let it go. It still served a purpose in the process…but let it go.

But, it can be so hard to kill that "darling." Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on a follow up to Field Trip to the Moon called Field Trip to the Ocean Deep. I’m also working on a train story, and I’m thinking about trying out a middle reader.

I loved this book. I can't wait for the sequel. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you are grateful you did not know at the beginning?

I’m kind of grateful I didn’t know how hard making children’s literature is. The masters who have been at it for years make it look easy! How many people have we heard casually say “I think I may write children’s books in my spare time”? How many of us had that attitude when we started? I sure did! It took failure after failure for me to learn what a craft it is. I needed those failures though. Each one taught me something valuable and left me with a sense that my first good story was just over the next hill. The good news is eventually there IS something over the next hill if you stick with it.

If you don't mind, I think I'm going to put that above my computer. What is your favorite animal? Why?

Turtle, because I’m a hare in name and in nature. Like Aesop’s hare I have periods of intense productivity followed by stretches of laziness and procrastination. I need that turtle balance. Slow and steady. Methodical. Also they just look cool.

Thank you, John for participating in this interview.

Be sure to stop by next Friday for the #PPBF post on Field Trip to the Moon.

For more information about John Hare, or to contact him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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