The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sneed B. Collard III
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than ninety award-winning books.
Sneed has evolved through several life-history stages on his way to becoming one of today’s leading children’s authors. His first book, Sea Snakes, was published in 1993. His eightieth (or so) book, Birds of Every Color, was released in 2019. In 2006, Sneed was the recipient of the Washington Post Children’s Book Guild Children’s Nonfiction Writer of the Year Award for his body of work.
His books include: Little Killers: The Ferocious Lives of Puny Predators (2022); Waiting for a Warbler illustrated by Thomas Brooks (2021); Beaver and Otter Get Along...Sort of: A Story of Grit and Patience between Neighbors illustrated by Meg Sodano (2021); One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution (2018); Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding (2018); Insects: The Most Fun Bug Book Ever (2017); Catching Air—Taking the Leap with Gliding Animals (2017): Hopping Ahead of Climate Change—Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival (2016); Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests (2015); Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species (Scientists in the Field Series) (2008); Shep—Our Most Loyal Dog illustrated by Joanna Yardley (2006); Flash Point (2006); and The Prairie Builders—Reconstructing America’s Lost Grasslands (2005), winner of the AAAS/Subaru/Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
His newest picture book, Border Crossings, releases on January 24, 2023.
Sneed, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and your writing.
Thanks so much for the invitation.
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?)
I am fortunate to be able to work from home and my office has a wonderful view of tree-clad mountains which, right now, are covered in snow. Though I love to travel, especially to research a new book or article, I also love my daily writing routine. I usually rise early to walk our black lab, Lola, and do a few other chores, then sit to do “hard writing” for three or four hours. By hard writing, I mean first drafts, difficult revisions, anything that takes some serious brain power. After lunch and a nap and sometimes some exercise, I use the late afternoon and early evening to do busy work such as answering correspondence and that sort of thing.
I like to write a wide variety of things including picture books, older science books, and middle-grade and YA fiction. Recently, I’ve been returning to some of my roots and have been writing articles for nature, outdoors, and travel magazines. It’s a good lesson: if you know how to write, you can find work in a lot of different areas.
Your office sounds delightful. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Probably the first books I fell in love with were The Lord of the Rings books. They were also really the first adult books that I read, and I still reread them every few years.
You started your own publishing company in 2010, can you share a bit about being a publisher and surviving these Covid years?
First off, I should tell you that I haven’t published a new book with Bucking Horse Books for several years. I published ten books altogether and am very proud of them, but it’s very difficult to be a writer, publisher, and marketer all at the same time. Since I have been getting a lot of interest from other publishers lately, I have let BHB rest and am focusing on several outside projects. While book publishing slowed during covid, it was a good chance for us all to re-set and try something new. This is when I started writing adult articles again, and I am so glad that I did as there is much more demand than I anticipated.
Flexibility is definitely an important trait for writters. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
I once wrote a middle-grade novel in a tiny apartment in the rainforest of Queensland, Australia. The novel wasn’t very good and fortunately never got published, but it was great fun to write while listening to Kookaburras cackle outside my door.
That would be so much fun! What was the inspiration for Border Crossings? Did it always start from the ocelots point of view? In addition to the animals and insects shown or mentioned in the book or the author’s note, were there any you discovered in your research you wished you could have included?
The inspiration for Border Crossings grew from several amazing birding trips my son and I took along the border in Arizona, Texas, and California. At the time, the wall only existed in a few places and I recall thinking how good it was that wildlife was still free to cross back and forth. That all changed dramatically when our last president rammed through his plans to build the wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
One of my first thoughts was, “What is this going to do to wildlife?” No one was even mentioning it and I thought, “I have to do something to raise awareness about this issue.” The ocelots quickly came to mind because they lived in both Arizona and Texas, and I thought they would make appealing “ambassador animals” to represent the problem that many different species now faced. I do wish I could have included some other animals, but in a picture book you have to let the art do much of the talking, and I was so delighted that my publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing, hired Howard Gray to bring the story to life.
Highlighting the problems of species fragmentation, it is a very important book. And as there are few books about them, I am glad you featured the ocelot. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Border Crossings? Was this similar to your other books?
I think it took about four years from start to finish, which is about average for an illustrated picture book in my experience.
What was the hardest part of researching, or writing Border Crossings?
The most difficult part was that the border wall was being built during the publication process, and it was difficult to get information about what was happening and where. As a result some of the “wall-free” depictions in the book now have a giant steel barrier stretching across them in real life. Rather than continually revising the book, I chose to discuss this situation in the author’s note at the end.
Writing as things quickly change has to be a unique challenge itself. When you first saw Howard Gray’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Sneed B. Collard III, 2023. Image © Howard Gray, 2023.
Charlesbridge’s art department was good enough to ask me what I thought of Howard’s work before they hired him and I knew right away that he would do an amazing job—and he did! As far as picking my favorite spread, whew, that’s tough. Maybe the “Hitchcockian” spread showing the ocelot from above walking north toward the border. I also love the illustration showing the different ecosystems through the bars in the wall, with graffiti on the bars. Very moving and thought-provoking.
This is such a gorgeous spread. What's something you want your readers to know about Border Crossings?
The border wall was a simple idea to fix a very complicated situation—immigration. We keep getting bombarded with such “simple solutions” from politicians and usually these simple solutions either fail or make the situations much worse. I hope that in reading Border Crossings, both young and old readers will have the chance to think more deeply about the issues that face us—and learn to be skeptical of “easy fixes” no matter where they come from.
I hope so, too! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I actually have several very exciting projects in the works now, including two upcoming picture books with Harold Underdown at Kane Press. One focuses on animals that have no close living relatives. These animals are “sole survivors” and feature some of earth’s most fascinating critters, from the subterranean Purple Frog in India to South America’s Monito del Monte. I’ll fill you in on the second title later! In addition to the picture books, I am working on an older book about the military’s efforts to conserve endangered species, and an adult guide to birding.
Those all sound so interesting! I can't wait to see them. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?
To be honest, I don’t know if I ever heard this from someone, but I will tell you that in my opinion the best writing advice is to write about what really interests you. I see too many other writers chasing the latest topic craze—almost always unsuccessfully. I also see way too many newer writers obsessed with getting published instead of being obsessed with making their writing better. It takes about ten years of constant effort to get good at writing, and there are no shortcuts. Once your writing shines, though, publication will follow.
Excellent advice, Sneed! Thank you for stopping by and sharing a bit about yourself and your newest book with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Border Crossings.
To find out more about Sneed B. Collard III, or connect with him:
Bucking Horse Books: https://buckinghorsebooks.com/