The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Norene Paulson
Norene Paulson spent almost twenty years sharing a love for words with middle school students in a rural Iowa school district. As a children's PB author, she continues to share her love of words with young readers. Norene’s children's magazine articles have appeared in Highlights for Children, Child Life, and Live Wire. Her second picture book, What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?, releases in March 2021.
Her debut picture book, Benny’s True Colors, released on November 17, 2020.
Welcome Norene, it's nice to get a chance to meet you.
Thank you, Maria. I’m so excited to be here with you today on Picture Book Buzz sharing a little bit about me and BENNY with your readers.
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 started writing for kids when my two boys were young (they’re both in their 30’s now, so you know how long I’ve been at this). When I decided to stay home with them, I needed a creative escape. I took a couple of Institute of Children’s Lit courses (which I highly recommend) and started writing non-fiction articles for children’s magazines. However, the more Mercer Mayer and Berenstain Bear books I read to the boys, the more fascinated I became with picture books. I loved (and still love) the way the words and art worked together to create a story… like a puzzle where all the pieces have to fit together perfectly. At that point, I was hooked and shifted my interest to writing picture books. My favorite type of picture books to write centers around acceptance and inclusion. As a former middle school teacher, I know how important it is for young people to feel accepted and included.
As far as where and when I write, I’m all over the place when it comes to “when.” Since I retired from teaching, I have so much more flexibility. I’m not a disciplined writer...no regular routine. In fact, I love having a deadline because it forces me to keep my behind in the chair. As far as where I write, until several months ago, it was at the kitchen island. However, when the paper piles and post-it notes started to take over and threatened our eating space, we converted a corner in our front room to an open office area. I love it!!
Sounds like quite the journey and a wonderful new writing space. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I would have loved to have been a Broadway dancer. Dance lessons, however, were not an option when I was growing up, so the only dancing I did was to songs on the record player in our basement. I have to say even though I never danced on stage, I can still break out in some pretty good moves when the right song’s playing.
How fun; thank you for sharing that. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Picture books were not a big part of my early years. The only one I remember is Lady, a Little Golden Book, which I still have today. It wasn’t until I could read myself that I fell in love with reading. I spent hours solving mysteries with Nancy Drew and exploring the frontier with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would say The Long Winter in the Little House on the Prairie series was my favorite book. It’s the only book I read multiple times.
I loved those books, too! Where did the idea for Benny’s True Colors come from?
Believe it or not, the idea came after I noticed what I thought were bird droppings on our front stoop. Turns out they were actually bat droppings. Every night, while bats in the backyard were doing what bats do, one little brown bat roosted high up on the brick in our front entry.
To me, he seemed to be hiding but why? Was he afraid of the dark? Did he hate the taste of bugs? Did he lack good echolocation skills and so was directionally challenged? Or, maybe, he wasn’t what he appeared to be. As a teacher, I witnessed first-hand assumptions made about others based on their outward appearance. That made me think a little deeper about this little brown bat. Was this little brown bat really a butterfly on the inside?
I love how inspiration comes from so many chance encounters and/or curious tangents. How many drafts, or revisions, did Benny’s True Colors take? What was the hardest part?
That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. I don’t keep track. I could go back and count, but Benny's drafts/revisions are all over the place: some on a jump drive, some on an external hard drive, some on my old PC, and the latest in Dropbox. Guessing, I would say close to 15. As always, for me the hardest part with any manuscript is getting that first rough draft written. I struggle to pull all the ideas swirling in my mind together and shaped into a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once that’s done, no matter how rudimentary, the process gets easier.
Interesting. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Benny’s True Colors?
Actually, it’s a tie between two moments. The first was when I was offered a book contract. That was a dream-come-true moment. Benny sold in a two-house auction and just the thought that two editors were interested in my words was surreal. Once an offer was accepted, I couldn’t stop pinching myself. I’d waited so long and dreamt of that moment for so many years, it was hard to believe it was really happening. The second rewarding moment came when I actually held the book in my hands. To see and touch and smell (yes, I love the smell of new books) the hard copy was indescribable.
An auction for a debut picture book - nice! Did anything surprise you when you first saw the illustrations? What is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Norene Paulson, 2020. Image © Anne Passchier, 2020.
What surprised and pleased me the most about the art was its boldness and its vivid colors. The art pairs so well with the text because showing your true colors isn’t always easy. A person needs to be bold, and that’s what Anne Passchier’s vividly colored art captures. The last spread in the book is my favorite because the text reaffirms the importance of friendship, acceptance, inclusion, and unconditional love. As far as the illustrations, though, I think my favorite spread show Benny dreaming and up in the night sky the stars are aligned in the form of a butterfly. Perfect.
I love how the text and illustrations portray the acceptance of one's self and others. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Benny’s True Colors?
Benny is a book about knowing your true self and the joy of letting the world know you, too. Don’t be afraid to express who you are on the inside to the outside world. Always be “true to you” and afford others the same privilege.
So important; especially given the division in our country (and the world). What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
As a writer my greatest source of inspiration from comes from the experiences I’ve had working with a multitude of students during my 20+ years of teaching. Growing up is hard and kids struggle emotionally and socially which is why I write stories about friendship, acceptance, and inclusion--ideas that need to be fostered early in a child’s life and reinforced over and over as a child grows.
So, how are you staying creative these days? Is there anything special that you are doing to “prime the well”?
What I find helpful in “priming the well” is critiquing. Reading someone’s else’s writing always inspires me and reignites the passion in me for my own writing. The examples of good writing that I have the privilege of reading strengthen my own writing skills and then…what’s more energizing than getting constructive, thoughtful feedback in return from your own critique buddies? I would not creatively survive without the kidlit community particularly my critique partners/writer friends. It takes a village and they are mine.
I totally agree with you. The kidlit community has always been amazing, but so many have found creative ways to help during these crazy time. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
My second picture book What's Silly Hair Day With No Hair? from Albert Whitman releases on March 1, 2021. I’m excited to share this story about a girl with alopecia, and how she and her best friend work together to make their school’s Silly Hair Day a day everyone can enjoy. Also, a revisited and revised manuscript with lots of fun riddles weaved into the storyline went out on submission recently, so keeping my fingers crossed. Any thrift store shoppers out there? I’m hooked on secondhand store shopping, so let’s just say the MC in my most recent WIP is too.
I am REALLY excited about this book! I haven't seen any picture book involving alopecia. And your WIP also sounds intriguing. What have you learned from your critique buddies over the years? Or from your journey so far?
Perseverance is what I’ve learned both from my critique buddies and from my long journey to publication. You have to keep moving forward. I feel fortunate to be on this journey with so many supportive, creative partners because as in any good partnership, they don’t let you give up. You trust them with your words even when you know your words are horrible and with your writing soul even when it feels hollow. They prop you up and push you forward. They remind you that you ARE a writer, your words matter, and that you will persevere. I would not have reached this point in my journey if I hadn’t had them helping me navigate all the detours and road blocks.
This is the most beautiful "ode" to a critique partner that I have ever heard. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment. Why?
I am and always have been a dog lover. The greatest thing about dogs is they possess all the qualities that inspire my writing. They are inclusive (want to be included in everything I’m doing), accepting (don’t ever judge me), and offer unconditional love (this one speaks for itself).
Thank you Norene for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
Thanks for inviting me.
Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Benny's True Colors.
To find out more about Norene Paulson, or get in touch with her: