The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lynn Becker
Lynn Becker has been a reader and creator all her life. These days, when she’s not writing picture books or children’s book reviews, she’s hiking, doing crazy-long yoga classes, and dreaming up even more picture books. After growing up in New York, Lynn spent many years in the Southern California desert with her husband, children, cats, dog, and lots and lots of chickens. She now lives in Colorado. The chickens stayed behind, but a few mythical beasties may have followed her to her new home…!
Her debut picture book, Monsters in the Briny, released on April 15th.
Hi, Maria, thanks so much for having me!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I’ve always done a lot of reading, writing, and art-making. I dream up stories all the time, although most don’t go through the really hard work that it takes to make them into finished manuscripts.
I fell in love with picture books while I was in grad school. I loved how the best ones were the perfect combination of words and art. After freelancing in animation for a while, I moved to the desert, raised my kids, and began trying to learn how to write a decent story. At first, I thought I would illustrate, as well, but I finally realized that while I was writing every day, I only drew or painted when I had to. Clearly I wasn’t giving this part of the process enough love and it showed. Not long after I began working on projects I did not intend to illustrate myself, I wrote Monsters in the Briny, which went on to become my first published book!
I love writing funny stories for people who read to be entertained. Most of my work has an element of fantasy to it, with the invitation to escape into more magical realms. Likewise, I enjoy writing sparely-worded, lyrical pieces and certainly rhyming has lately become a powerful tool for me, as well.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
People who knew me back when I lived in California are likely aware of this, but others might not be. For many years, I kept a flock of chickens, usually between 20 and 30 of them, that laid eggs in many different colors—pink, brown, blue, and varying shades of green. And because my hens ate plenty of vegetables, their yolks were a deep, golden-orange. I do miss my chickens!
(Okay here’s a bonus something no one outside my family should know - when I was a kid I had a good friend named Beatrice—she was a three or four foot tall walking stick with a face drawn on in markers and she wore a Barbie doll wig. She always stood behind me on the couch while I sat there reading.)
Those chickens sound amazing and thank you for sharing Beatrice with us! What was your inspiration for Monsters in the Briny?
After building up a group of manuscripts that I was happy with, I began submitting my work to agents in earnest. To help cope with the ordeal that is querying, I decided to do something just for myself. I’ve always loved mythology and magical beasts so, after doing some research, I decided to try writing poetry about them. When I got to the kraken, I figured a sea shanty about a grumpy kraken might be the way to go. I used a fun and familiar tune and, when I brought the short version to my critique group, they liked it so much that we all decided it needed to be developed into a picture book-length project.
What an excellent way for a story to evolve. How many drafts, or revisions, did Monsters in the Briny take from idea spark to publication?
Ha, well, I usually number—easily—30 to 50 or more drafts for any story I’m working on. It’s kind of hard to track since, if the title changes, I begin numbering new drafts from there, but I begin a new draft each time I want to feel free enough to rip anything in the story apart—I don’t want to worry about losing material I may choose to go back to later.
Monsters in the Briny took nearly 15 numbered drafts to get into shape for submission, so far fewer than usual. I went from my original, much shorter version about the kraken to a longer version about this kraken, to the current ensemble-cast version. Rather than sticking to one sea monster experiencing a variety of issues, the story grew to be about a small slew of monsters, each with their own “problem” that needed solving. And then there were a few drafts to work on back matter, which my agent brilliantly suggested we add in.
Throughout, Monsters was a joy to work on, and ended up being a fairly short process for me—we’re talking months instead of years!
Funny how some manuscripts just flow. I think this one was meant to be. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was favorite book as a child?
Ah, well—you asked for it—as a kid, I read a lot (still do), and one of my all-time favorites was my Junior Library Guild edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (which I still have). I also pored over much-loved copies of From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time, Black Beauty (even though I lived in NYC and rarely, if ever, saw a real horse), Heidi, Magic Elizabeth, the Miss Pickerell books, and anything by Beverly Cleary. Also, The Funny Guy, Emmy Keeps a Promise, The Forgotten Door, and my collection of Japanese Fairy Tales, all of which I read over and over and over, and which struck a chord in me for whatever reason. And so many Scholastic Book club titles (including my absolute favorite The Ghost of Dibble Hollow, as well as the Danny Dunn books and loads of others). By fifth grade, I was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, which I followed up with gobs of Agatha Christie. Quite a mixed bag of books, some classics and some not so much, but I loved them all.
You've listed some of my all-time favorites, though I am unfamiliar with Magic Elizabeth. Thanks for the introduction. What is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing children’s books? How about writing Monsters in the Briny in particular?
I think the most challenging thing for me would have to be plot. Plot is really, really hard to do well, I think. I’ve found I can do rhythm and rhyme well enough, and I love playing around with manuscripts on a word level, but pulling together a fresh and coherent plot which carries the reader through from start to finish in a meaningful way is far from easy!
Oh, and heart—that mysterious something that makes a reader want to come back to experience your story over and over. Maybe that’s even harder than plot.
As for Monsters in the Briny, I’ve written untold numbers of drafts for nearly all of my stories, but this one was a joy to write, from start to finish, and took far less time than usual. Even thought I can count those 15 numbered drafts, Monsters flowed from the moment I began, and the process was so enjoyable that revision was never a challenge—it was more of an exciting puzzle that I worked through. I discovered a love of rhythm and rhyme that lent itself to creating during the long hikes I take daily. Honestly, everything about Monsters in the Briny has been magical for me.
I hope you experience that "magic" with more manuscripts in the future. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Scott Brundage’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Lynn Becker, 2022. Image © Scott Brundage, 2022.
I was completely relieved and happy when I first saw Scott’s sketches. Even in black and white, I could tell he was going to bring the manuscript to life with all of the humor and heart I could wish for. And when I saw the finished cover, I actually cried—it’s wonderful!! It does everything a good cover should do—it practically demands that you open the book and experience all the nautical hijinks inside. And the colors are gorgeous—that ocean and the sky! And those tentacles imparting the perfect amount of menace. I honestly love each and every interior illustration but I think, for the reasons I just gave, it’s the cover that’s made the most lasting impression on me. (Though I do feel particularly fond of the very last double spread of the story, right before the backmatter…)
I love all the illustrations, too; so Lynne & I agreed on this one. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Monsters in the Briny?
Books can be a lot of fun, and I really, really want readers to have fun with Monster in the Briny! I want them to experience the joy of the language, and the tune they can sing it to if they wish, and the surprising universe full of possibilities available if they believe in magic—and magical beasties!
I don't think I could "read" it if I tried. But that's likely because my grandfather loved to sing the original and your version is so easy to sing! How have you been staying creative these days? What are you doing to keep being inspired?
For me, being creative is a matter of slowing down to breathe and think. As long as I take time for long walks and to feed the birds in my yard, I’m usually going to be inspired. Life can get tough and distracting and all-consuming, and the struggle for me is to find time to think and time to be, even amid all the chaos. The walking gives me that, and yoga also helps a lot. And reading books and looking at art of all kinds. I always need to have some kind of creative project in my head, to keep me dreaming. Oh, and I need to show up at my desk, nearly every day!
Awesome ideas. Especially feeding the birds! 😊 Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Next spring, my rhyming board book, June Moon, comes out. It’s about a child and the moon enjoying some bedtime fun together on a magical summer evening. And I’ve got many other projects in various stages of completion. There’s never enough time to finish everything!
I will be keeping an eye for them. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
There are so many amazing National Parks (and I used to live in a cabin right next to the Angeles National Forest) but I think I have a soft spot for Joshua Tree. I remember it from before it was a National Park, back when it was a sleepy National Monument, and have explored many of its trails. I love the terrain, and how parts of it look like they could be the surface of the moon. It’s full of cactuses and lizards, and it’s especially beautiful when the Joshua trees are blooming.
Thank you Lynn for stopping by to share about yourself and your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Monsters in the Briny.
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