The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Gabi Snyder and Giveaway
Gabi studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family.
Gabi’s debut picture book, Two Dogs on a Trike, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, released in May 2020 from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, Listen, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will arrive on July 13, 2021, from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman.
Gabi, thank-you so much for stopping back by to talk about your newest picture book.
Thanks for hosting me on your fabulous blog, Maria!
What inspired you to write Listen?
I had to look back at my electronic files and my old notebooks to see exactly when and how Listen began and how it evolved.
I first wrote the idea down on a post-it note (see photo) and then jotted down some ideas in my notebook in March 2018. I think I wanted to explore, in picture book form, the benefits of listening. I also wanted to explore that sense that the world can sometimes be so filled with noise – both literal and figurative – that it can be impossible to focus or to filter out what’s really important.
In addition, I wrote Listen at a time when I was taking a great deal of inspiration and solace from getting outside for walks and paying attention to the sights, sounds, and sensations on those walks. I was also attending a weekly yoga class and finding that the practice of mindfulness was helping me focus and feel less overwhelmed – a feeling I was especially prone to as a child and still occasionally struggle with as an adult. So I think the text for Listen grew from an exploration of the benefits of listening coupled with the practice of mindfulness.
Thanks for the "baby" image. We doesn't always get to see initial spark of a manuscript. What was the hardest part of writing Listen? Which was harder to write, or perhaps took the most revisions, Listen or Two Dogs on a Trike? Why?
Deciding exactly how to include the non-fiction elements in Listen was a bit tricky. At one point, I had what now comprises the backmatter included as sidebars. And I even toyed with a version that was entirely non-fiction. But I couldn’t get the tone quite right. It struck me as a tad didactic.
It was also challenging, but ultimately satisfying, to revise based on the revise and resubmit (R&R) request from my editor. She asked for a bit more structure and arc and for the story to progress from the loudest noises to quieter noises, forcing the protagonist and the reader to listen more carefully as the story progresses. With the help of my brilliant critique partners, I revised per the R&R and I think the resulting text is much stronger.
In contrast, Two Dogs on a Trike came out mostly whole. Unlike most of my manuscripts, it only required a few revision passes.
Interesting how very different the two manuscripts were. Is there something you want your readers to know about Listen?
I hope readers will come away from reading Listen with the sense that they can put listening and mindfulness skills to bear on a variety of situations. In particular, I hope that they’ll recognize that when the world feels overwhelming, there’s an opportunity to pause, close your eyes, and tune in to individual sounds.
I also want readers to know that it’s okay to sometimes feel overwhelmed by our big noisy world! Sometimes as a child, or as an adult, you might need to seek a quiet spot to find some solace.
I think you and Stephanie did a great job of showing this. How long did it take from the first draft to publication?
I wrote the first draft of Listen in March 2018, and we sold the book to Simon & Schuster/Wiseman, following an R&R request, in March 2019. The book will be on shelves July 13, 2021, so it’s a little over three years from first draft to publication.
Did you have to use illustration notes or did you set the sounds apart in your text?
Originally, I had the onomatopoeia italicized and/or bolded within my text. Later, illustrator Stephanie Graegin and editor Sylvie Frank suggested that some of the sounds, like “Woof!” and “ERNT! ERNT!” could be pulled out of the text and included in the art instead. I think that thoughtful change makes the sounds feel like an integral part of the illustrations!
Thanks for sharing how that element of the book developed. When you first saw Stephanie Graegin’s illustrations did anything surprise? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Gabi Snyder, 2021. Image © Stephanie Graegin, 2021.
I’d imagined the setting as a city, so that wasn’t a surprise, but I was delighted to see that the city chosen was New York City (Brooklyn, I think). I love the neighborhood feeling of the setting. My favorite illustrations are the final nighttime spreads with the calming and magical warm glow of lamps in windows and streetlights set against a twilight blue. So gorgeous!
It is very serene. Can you share a tidbit about any projects you are working on now?
My third picture book, Look, was recently announced. Look explores a variety of patterns found in nature and at home and also explores how those patterns connect us to each other and to the world around us.
I’m also revising a middle grade fantasy novel. Writing a novel is challenging and satisfying in a different way than writing a picture book is. They both require multiple revision passes, but I find I need larger chunks of time to dive in and make meaningful middle grade revisions.
Congratulations. We'll have to keep an eye out for those. How did you, or are you, staying creative? Are there certain things that you do to “prime the well”?
I find that my writing “flows” better if I take a walk before or between writing sessions! In fact, I love to take a notebook and pen with me on walks, especially nature walks. I’ve worked through thorny plot problems while walking and have had countless ideas pop into my brain while strolling through my town or hiking in the woods. I think it’s a combination of the repetitive movement involved and the inspiration that can arise from a change of scenery.
Thank you, Gabi for stopping by and sharing Listen with us. It’s always wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Listen.
To find out more about Gabi Snyder, or get in touch with her:
Gabi Snyder has offered a copy of Listen to one lucky winner. Sorry, but U.S. addresses only. To be eligible, just leave a comment on this post. Additionally, let me know if you also share either post via social media (FB, Twitter, or Instagram) and I'll add more entries into the random drawing.
For a signed (by Gabi) copy, you can order from Grass Roots Bookstore (and get an adorable LISTEN bookmark).