The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Beth Ferry
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion,
our most inexhaustible source of magic."
~ Albus Dumbledore
Beth Ferry reads and writes by the beach in New Jersey. She is the author of many picture books illustrated by many amazing artists, including Stick and Stone, Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish and The Scarecrow.
Her newest picture book, Caveboy Crush, releases tomorrow.
Welcome Beth, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.
Thanks so much for having me!
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?)
BETH: Writing is the thing I look forward to most each day, especially when I am working on something new, and I do write every day, although, like everyone, much of my writing is rewriting. My favorite type of writing fits into the picture book category. To me, picture books are the absolute perfect bite of book.
I have, however, recently begun writing early graphic novels and I am enjoying it immensely. I am having fun writing lots of dialogue and find it strangely satisfying.
It has been ten years since I decided to try to pursue my dream of writing for children and I couldn’t be happier.
I am excited to see these early graphic novels. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I made all my kids’ Halloween costumes for as long as they would let me – over 35 of them! I would begin as soon as school started because it took me so long to make them and boy, do I realize now what good sports they were to indulge me in this. I don’t sew, so all the costumes, from a life-size DD coffee cup to a fish tank to a Zoltar machine, were all made with a hot glue gun. I am a big fan of the hot glue gun.
That's impressive. With 9 books published, and 8 more on the way in 2020 and 2021, would you say there is a common thread in your picture books?
Such an interesting question which I really needed to think about. Like most writers, I find ideas in all different places, but usually it’s a word that sparks my imagination. If I had to pick a common thread, it would be that my stories always involve some kind of word play and always have a touch of rhyme in them, even if they’re written in prose.
That's a great thread and I can see that running through the books. This year, you’ve released 5 books – Sealed with a Kiss (Jan.), Squirrel’s Family Tree (Jan.), Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish (Feb.), The Scarecrow (Sept.), and now Caveboy Crush. Do you find that the books compete against each other for attention? Have you found it difficult to promote so many books? Did you have to adjust the way you did school visits of book launch/reading events?
It has been a little crazy because I want to give each book the attention it deserves. I had a single book launch for my first three books of 2019, which made sense since two were published in January and one in February. Anna Kang, the illustrator of Squirrel’s Family Tree, joined me which made it so much more fun and special. Then Tom Lichtenheld and I went out on a tour for Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish in February 2019 which was an absolutely incredible experience. It was my first book tour and doing it with Tom made it better in every single way. I think it will always be one of my favorite memories as an author.
And I just recently completed a tour for The Scarecrow in September 2019. Sharing The Scarecrow was nothing short of a joy. Books tours are a fabulous way to meet kids from all over the country. I have seen more of America in the last eight months than I have in my entire life. And I love that kids are the same no matter what state you are in – they are eager and excited and so very smart!
I definitely have a lot more to talk about at school visits now, and it has made me think about what my books have in common and how they differ, and this is fun and interesting to share and discuss with kids.
Although crazy, it does sound like a lot of fun. You have 4 books scheduled to release in both 2020 and 2021. What’s your secret for producing & publishing so many books each year?
I wish there were a secret I could share, but it really has to do with the publisher and the season they decide to publish your book, plus the timetable of the illustrator. Sometimes you have to wait years before an illustrator can begin your book and other times, the illustrator can get to it right away. So, depending on how that works out, you might have a book that takes two years from start to finish and another that takes five. And when that happens, often you have more than two books publishing in the same year.
Thank you for that interesting nugget/glimpse into publishing. It's good to know,
especially when we just see the final result. What was your inspiration for Caveboy Crush?
The word crush! As previously mentioned, I am a big fan of word play and crush is just a wonderful homonym with such different meanings. When I thought of who would crush something if they had a crush, a cave boy just seemed like the right answer. It was fun playing around with a prehistoric setting, and the illustrator, Joseph Kuefler, did such a fabulous job creating that world. I am in love with the main characters, Neander and Neanne, and all the fabulous prehistoric creatures he included in the illustrations.
Do you find it harder to write rhyming text (The Scarecrow & Squirrel’s Family Tree) or prose (Caveboy Crush, Sealed with a Kiss, & Ten Rules of a Birthday Wish)? Which do you prefer?
I actually prefer to write in rhyme, but it doesn’t always suit the story. Of the 19 books I have sold, only five are in rhyme. Although rhyming can limit your story because it limits your word choices, it can also elevate the story. When I start writing, I find that if it’s going to be in rhyme, the rhyme asserts itself and it almost feels like it couldn’t be any other way. It’s weird, but true.
Wow 19 sold stories! I like that the rhyme picks the book, instead of you picking the story to rhyme. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I was a big fan of miniatures and anything tiny when I was young, so I remember loving Maurice Sendak’s A Nutshell Library. I also liked Miss Suzy by Miriam Young because the squirrel lived in a tiny house in a tree. When I got a bit older, I read every Nancy Drew book and was a big fan of Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and A Wrinkle in Time.
Great books. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration?
Words are my greatest source of inspiration and I revel in the ability to play with them in as many ways as possible. I like to write stories about friendship and pets and the ocean, but true inspiration strikes me when I see a word that is either a compound word like the word scarecrow or a homonym like stick and crush and don’t get me started on alliteration. Words are so important - how we use them, which ones we choose, and how fun they can be! There’s a lot of power in words. Words can make us feel, make us laugh, make us think. I hope my books convey this idea to kids.
I think you do a great job with conveying the fun and power of words. Do you have a favorite book? (We promise NOT to tell the others) Perhaps one that was the most gratifying to write (or finish)? One that means the most you or your family? Or one that tickled your funny bone the most?
Stick and Stone will always be my favorite, not only because it was my first book, but because of the joy I have received from sharing it with children! I never get tired of reading it and everything about it, most especially the warm, wonderful art, makes me happy. I truly believe that Stick and Stone opened so many doors for me, not the least of which was meeting and getting to work with Tom Lichtenheld, and I will forever be grateful to it (and to everyone who saw its potential) for that.
I also love Stick and Stone for it's fun and ingenuity. What was the toughest aspect of writing Caveboy Crush?
Cutting down on the alliteration!
I really had to dial it back because my first draft was drowning in it.
One day I want to write a book that is all alliteration!
Ha! That seems like a big challenge, especially for the readers. You’ve teamed up with some amazing illustrators – The Fan Brothers, Tom Lichtenheld, Olivier Tallec, Anna Kang, and Matt Meyers to name a few. Do you find that you ever need to submit your manuscripts with illustrator notes?
Because I am amazingly untalented in the artistic area, I don’t really think about how the art will look, which I think serves me well because I am always delighted to see how the illustrator interprets my words. I rarely use art notes, only when absolutely necessary, because I know the beauty of the picture book is that the artist will interpret my story, my imagination, with their own imagination. I like to think of it as non-contact collaboration, an oxymoron to be sure.
I have been delightfully surprised so many times to see how the illustrator adds layers and details to the story - things I would have never thought of.
I think your imagination and word play gave the illustrators lots of fodder to work with. Is there something you want your readers to know about Caveboy Crush?
The story is a silly way for kids to see how it feels to be smitten with someone. Although the main character, Neander, is smitten with Neanne, and crushes anything and everything he can in order to impress her, she turns the tables on him at the end. The ending was Joseph Kuefler’s idea and it is so satisfying. The ending is where the characters discover that they have a lot in common, which illustrates the idea that having things in common is a great basis for a friendship or a crush, and if we give someone a chance, we will most likely discover that we have something in common.
Caveboy Crush is also a great book to begin a discussion on homonyms, alliteration, and word play. It’s a fun example of how words can be interesting and fun!
It's fun to learn that the illustrator proposed the ending. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?
This has been said forever and will continue to be said, but patience is the skill most needed in this field. Agents and editors have a lot of reading to do and all that reading takes a lot of time, so the waiting is always challenging and frustrating, especially if you are excited about a particular story. I recently sold a book I wrote 7 years ago and have been working on intermittently through the years with a mind-boggling 166 revisions.
So, my advice is to always be willing to revise a story, but always, always be writing something new. Maya Angelou said “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have” and isn’t that just the truth?
Never give up, just keep learning, revising, and creating. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am currently working on an early graphic novel about a lion who is lifeguard. It’s in the early stages, but I am enjoying figuring out the many things that can go wrong for this lifeguard. Tom Lichtenheld and I are also working on a few new picture books. One’s about puddles and another is about umbrellas. That has to mean something, but I’m not sure what. The only thing I know for sure is that I am extremely lucky.
And, I'll add, talented. What is your favorite animal? Why?
My favorite animal (who lives with me) is a bulldog named Chaucer.
My favorite animal otherwise is the giraffe. I love the absurdity of the vertical, orange-spotted, blue-tongued creature.
Thank you, Beth for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Thank you so much for having me, Maria. I appreciate the thoughtful and interesting questions.
Be Sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Caveboy Crush.
To find out more about Beth Ferry, or get in touch with her:
If you are in the area, check out the November Picture Book Bonanza:
Books of Wonder
18 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
Saturday, November 16, 2019 1- 3 pm - Ages 3 & up.
Books of Wonder is happy to host the November Picture Book Bonanza.
Join us for an afternoon of picture book fun as MATTHEW FORSYTHE for Pokko and the Drum, MELISSA SWEET for How to Read a Book, OGE MORA for Saturday, BETH FERRY for The Scarecrow, ELLIOT KRELOFF for The Luckiest Snowball, and JESSE SIMA for Spencer's New Pet discuss their work, answer questions from the audience, and sign copies of all their books.