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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Christina Geist

Christina Geist is a brand strategist, entrepreneur and children’s book author who lives in New York City with her husband, NBC and MSNBC host Willie Geist, and her two children. Christina also runs two companies: True Geist, a branding and design firm, and Boombox Gifts.

Christina’s first children’s book, Buddy’s Bedtime Battery, was published by Random House Kids in September 2016 and – for a beautiful moment – eclipsed Harry Potter as the #1 children’s book on Amazon.

Her second picture book – Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School! releases tomorrow.

Happy Book Birthday

Welcome Christina!

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?)

CHRISTINA: For as long as I can remember, I have been most comfortable expressing myself with words on a page. I’ve never printed ‘writer’ on my business card, but my entire career has hinged on my ability to capture an idea and put it into words that connect with an audience. When my kids were young, stories and characters began to dance around in my head. The year they were 3 and 5 and starting preschool and Kindergarten, I promised myself I’d write them all down.

Where did the inspiration for Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School! come from? Did that core idea change as you started writing or doing revisions?

The inspiration for this book came the summer my daughter was 3, and I was getting her ready to attend her first day camp near my in-laws’ summer house. A few days before camp started, I just found myself saying things like, “Sorry, Bumpa, but Grandpas can’t go to camp!” and “Jojo, please don’t cry, but camp is not for Grandmas.” Creating this dynamic around the house to make my toddler feel like camp was exclusive and super exciting, and that we were all sad to be left out. It worked! So, I used a technique like this one for school and karate class and any other time when I needed help coaxing a nervous little person to step into a new situation.

I love that strategy. And you turned into a really funny book! What, if anything, was different about the creation process for your first picture book, Buddy’s Bedtime Battery?

Buddy was also inspired by my experiences when my kids were toddlers, constantly getting out of their beds once their bedtime routine was over. All of the bedtime books in our library were focused on putting other things to sleep, but not calming your own body down in a way my kids could grasp. So, I wrote Buddy’s Bedtime Battery about a little guy in his robot pajamas who powers his body down for bed, from his tushy to his toes, one BEEP! at a time. It’s inspired by Progressive Muscle Relaxation, a technique I learned in my High School health & wellness class and never forgot.

What a cool way to connect kids with relaxation techniques. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School! ?

When I started buying and reading school-prep books with my own kids, I noticed that so many of them follow what I call the “3 S” format. Nearly every story featured a character (sometimes a student, sometimes an animal, sometimes the teacher herself) feeling Sad, Scared or Shy - just the emotions I was trying to overcome! So, when I sat down to write Sorry Grownups, I flipped it upside down and called on the same game I played with my own kids as we worked our way through transitions in our day to day life.

It is more fun to go somewhere special. I appreciate taking the focus off the trepidation of school. Were the illustrations what you imagined as you wrote the manuscript, or did Tim Bowers surprise you?

Tim is an incredible talent, and it’s an honor to watch my words come to life by his brush. When I’m finalizing a manuscript, I map it out in a page plan format so I can imagine which words go on each page, and what the corresponding scene might look like. It also helps me set the pace of the story, since picture books are designed to be read aloud. I don’t sketch or draw anything, I just think it through and then I share that road map with my editor, who shares it with Tim. He then gets to work sketching every page of the book in black and white, and we review the sketches as a team. My editor gives feedback, and I have a chance to give feedback as well. Sketches are finalized and approved, and then Tim paints every page of the book as an individual oil painting. You can check out his Facebook page to see his work in progress. It’s amazing. [Tim Bowers Instagram:]

Wow, that is much more of a collaborative experience than many authors enjoy. This is the second time you’ve collaborated with Tim Bowers. Did you have much, if any, contact with him as he was creating the illustrations (for either book)?

I work remotely with Tim between my office in New York and his studio in Ohio. We did get to meet in person and do an event together while I was on book tour for Buddy in 2016. I was starstruck!

I can imagine. His art is impressive. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)

I’m inspired by my 9 nieces and nephews, my own two kids, and the thousands of little people I see in my day to day life. My stories all focus on a simple everyday moment, but I see it through just a slightly different lens.

That's a lot of inspiration running around. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’ve written many manuscripts about Lady and Buddy. I’m just getting started!

We'll keep our eyes peeled for more. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you're grateful you did not know at the beginning?

Picture books are meant to be read aloud to a child or a group of children. So, get out there and test drive your story as early and as often as you can – even if you don’t have illustrations. Kids are very forgiving, generous listeners, and collaborators. When in doubt, go straight to them and watch what happens as they hear your story. It will make you a better writer.

Great advice. Thank you, Christina for participating in this interview.

Be sure to stop by on Friday for the #PPBF post on Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!

For more information about Christina Geist, or to contact her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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