The Picture Book Buzz - Joint Interview with Margery Cuyler & Will Terry
I have a real treat for you all today. A real bone-afide homerun! [Was that a groan?]
Well, I have two very talented creatives - Margery Cuyler and Will Terry - joining me for a double header interview to talk about their newest picture book, Bonaparte Plays Ball, which releases tomorrow.
Welcome back Margery & Will,
I fell in love with Bonaparte in his first book, Bonaparte Falls Apart. I am so glad you created a sequel. What was the inspiration for Bonaparte Plays Ball? Who came up with aliens and the “Weird Series”?
MARGERY: Sometimes a title or an image precedes an idea for a book, and in the case of Bonaparte Plays Ball, the image came first. I simply imagined poor Bonaparte attempting to swing at a baseball while simultaneously struggling to keep his bones intact. I thought about “the bones” of the story for a long time before nailing the beginning, middle, and end.
I thought that as in the first book, Bonaparte should experience failure before success. Since I was writing a baseball story, it seemed natural that Bonaparte should strike out at a critical moment before rescuing his team with a walk-off homerun. I brainstormed with my editor, Emily Easton, about the name for the opposing team, and she suggested “Mighty Aliens.” In one of our brainstorming sessions, I came up with the name “Weird Series,” since it fit Bonaparte’s world.
Those must have been fun brainstorming sessions! As a sequel, how does your experience with the process of creating and publishing Bonaparte Plays Ball differ from your previous books?
MARGERY: Bonaparte Plays Ball was a difficult book to birth since I knew nothing about baseball when I wrote the initial draft. My two sons were soccer and basketball players, and I’m a football fan—so my first manuscript attempt was riddled with baseball errors. In addition, there’s a lexicon of special baseball terms, and it took me awhile to master them, especially since I wanted to include puns. I was blessed to have Emily Easton as my editor, since she’s a dedicated baseball fan and caught all kinds of embarrassing mistakes. If I write another Bonaparte story, it will not be based on a sport! [Ha! Boy, you set yourself a challenge!]
WILL: I loved working on this new book because I was able to go back and look at the characters from the first book - Bonaparte Falls Apart, as a style and drawing guide. I didn’t have to create all new characters but was able to jump right into adding them to the new story layouts. Of course, all of the aliens were new so I did have plenty of original designs to work on.
I have to say, of the new characters, I really love Coach Roach & Saturnicus. Did the amount of interaction between the two of you change with Bonaparte Plays Ball or did you remain largely separate?
MARGERY: We remained largely separate, which is normal. I was sent sketches all along the way, and I passed along my comments each time to Emily who then shared them with Will.
WILL: We’ve been friends for a while so I did contact Margery about the same number of times - but mostly just to let her know how much I loved her story! I love how she leaves some of the descriptions vague to give me room for personal interpretation!
There you have it - happy illustrators have room to play, too. And boy did Will have fun with this book! Do you each have a favorite spread from Bonaparte Plays Ball?
Text © Margery Culyer, 2020. Image © Will Terry, 2020.
Margery: It’s so hard to pick! I love every single illustration, but if pressed,
I’d say that the double-spread of Bonaparte swinging for the fences
is my favorite. [Have to admit I get a kick out of that pitcher - Greased Lightning.]
Text © Margery Culyer, 2020. Image © Will Terry, 2020.
WILL: I love the scene where Snatcher flashes garlic at Batula! I still laugh when I look at it! What a great idea this was - Margery was on fire with this one! [You both did an awesome job here!]
What was the toughest aspect of writing or illustrating Bonaparte Plays Ball? Is it easier when it’s a sequel or harder?
MARGERY: Harder, I believe, because from the writer’s perspective, the text has to be every bit as good as the text in the first book. In a sense, you end up competing with yourself.
WILL: Getting all the characters right - in the right positions around the bases and in the field and dugouts. This was challenging for all of us and there were quite a few changes and back and forth keeping things straight. You never know what kid (or adult) will follow the fictional game and call you out if things don’t make sense!
I must say, this cover is just as enticing and as endearing as the one for Bonaparte Falls Apart. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Bonaparte Plays Ball? Could you share any with us?
WILL: I loved looking at illustrations as a kid. I would stare at the illustrations from many of my favorite books looking for small details and extra storytelling. I decided to hide about 30 items in the book that might be found in a ballpark - it brought me back to my childhood!
There you go - the challenge - can you find all 30 items? Is there something you want your readers to know about Bonaparte Plays Ball?
MARGERY: It took me awhile to realize that the cleanup hitter is always fourth in the lineup. Even after watching games on Youtube, this was never clear. In the first draft, I also had an intermission instead of a seven-inning stretch. Duh. Duh. Duh. But what I always say about life: “Live and learn.” [Ha! Yes indeed. And "all's well that ends well."]
WILL: In the spirit of the moral of this story I’ve always believed that cheaters never prosper - or rarely prosper long term. It’s always better to build your life around honesty, hard work, and positivity! [What a perfect - and timely - message!]
Margery, do you want to give us a teaser for Snow Friends (Fall 2020)? And do either of you have any other projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? Maybe a third Bonaparte book?
MARGERY: Snow Friends was an experiment for me. I wanted the format to be a hybrid of small panels, full pages, and break-out double spreads with minimal text. That’s why I laid out the story in the format I envisioned before I wrote the words. The words that I added were more like footnotes for what I envisioned as the illustrations. Eventually the text took on a bit more flesh after the sketches were completed. I was very lucky that Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt/Macmillan understood my vision when I first showed her my poorly executed dummy (believe me, I can’t draw).
I saw Will Hillenbrand’s artwork in my head while working on the dummy, and I actually shared my lay-out with him before I met with Christy. He jumped onboard and furnished a sketch of two of the characters. Christy agreed that he’d be the perfect illustrator for the book, and later Will added a Chihuahua character to the story, which I didn’t have at first. (The pup doesn’t speak but he helps to move the story along.) [I can't wait to see this one.]
As for future projects, I have an idea for a Bonaparte Halloween story. In addition,
I’m working on four early chapter books about a first-grade math whiz named Addy McBean for Aladdin’s QUIX program. Stacy Curtis will be the illustrator, and the stories will be heavily illustrated.
WILL: I’m really hoping we can work on a third Bonaparte book - having a children’s book series is a dream of mine! I’m working on my own book that will be published towards the end of summer 2020 but I’m keeping it on the down low right now. [check out his website, maybe you can figure out which of the awesome images is his next book.]
So, having done a number of book releases and associated readings and school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (Anything you would do/try differently this time?)
MARGERY: I think in general that classes have become academically more rigorous, so I’ve tipped my presentations in this direction, focusing on storytelling structure, vocabulary, and so on. I think it’s essential to have a sense of humor when presenting material, so I’m in the process right now of changing out some of the photos I have in my Powerpoint so as to substitute funnier ones. I also offer writing workshops to smaller groups as an alternative to presenting in an assembly. I’ve also worked at increased my presence on social media. [Great Ideas, thanks!]
WILL: It’s really important to do your homework on how to promote your newly published book. It begins months or years before your book hits the shelves. Develop a list of things to do and put them on a calendar because your publisher can only do so much. It’s up to the author and/or illustrator to promote their book(s)! [More terrific advice, thanks!]
Thank you, Margery and Will for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you both.
Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Bonaparte Plays Ball.
To find out more about Margery Cuyler, or get in touch with her:
[and to pronounce her name properly visit – TeachingBooks.net ]
To find out more about Will Terry, or get in touch with him:
Online School: www.svslearn.com