Hey everyone, thanks for joining us today, May 17, 2019, for this really special interview with my writing hero, Diana Murray! As many of you know, I just signed with my wonderful literary agent, Rebecca Angus. I can say with certainty that I would not have impressed her without Diana’s amazing guidance.
Diana is one of those amazing women who defy the odds and writes picture books in rhyme (and oh so well, might I add) in an industry that practically screams “no rhyme!” Her picture books are exciting, fun, and also varied, ranging from pirates to witches to math to unicorns, and she’s not even close to done!
Thanks so much, Kaitlyn! I don’t really consider it defying odds. There are loads of rhyming picture books being published every day. On second thought…maybe it is defying odds in a way. You’re right. Because when you write in rhyme, you inevitably and quite frequently come across advice (both verbal and written) to quit writing in rhyme and write in prose instead. And that’s in a business that already has you on the verge of quitting every other day because of all the rejections, frustrations and setbacks. So in order to continue writing in rhyme, you have to be extremely determined and passionate about it. And that’s the key. Instead of not writing in rhyme, you write in rhyme more and more and more (if the passion is there), until it starts to come to you so smoothly that few would object.
More about Diana:
Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2016), PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/Random House, 2018), and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019). Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two daughters, and a smarty-pants cockatiel named Bean.
Diana, thanks for joining me today on the MathIsEverywhere blog.
Let’s start with you, what’s something you’d like to share? Anything at all that you’d like to share with my readers?
Since we’re talking math, I’d like to bring up DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS (Step-into-Reading, Random House), which is a book I have coming out next year, though it hasn’t been officially announced yet. This book doesn’t feature straightforward counting, but rather, the concept of doubling. It shows how quickly numbers can escalate and get out of hand and it shows the contrast of “nothing” vs. a great many things in a very visual way. And since they’re dinosaurs that are doubling, that further highlights the increasing mass and volume. I hope this book gets kids thinking about how fun and mind-blowing math can be, and I hope it makes them laugh, too. I’m really excited for it to come out. I wrote the first draft in a doctor’s waiting room.
Mind-blowing is the perfect summary! I can’t wait to read it, and thanks for giving us the inside scoop! My next question is how did your math story City Shapes come about? What’s your favorite thing about that story?
I lived in Manahattan for a long time, from the end of high school till my early thirties. During that time, I loved taking long walks (for miles!) through the city. I used to love the way the neighborhoods changed and each place had its own character. I loved observing, taking photos, drawing, and pausing to shop or eat at random spots. There is A LOT going on in the city at all times. My walks through the city inspired the book. My favorite part of the book is the hope that it will make kids notice shapes around them in their world. That it might encourage kids (and parents) to be more observant.
I love that! Observation is huge, and many people do forget to stop and look around. Now, your next book coming out is Unicorn Day. Congrats! It looks amazing! In another interview, you shared that it was inspired by your daughters. Do you know how they got interested in unicorns? Did you like unicorns as a kid? What do you think is so special about unicorns that has helped them remain so popular generation after generation?
My girls (like many) always loved ponies and unicorns. They used to play a game where a bunch of ponies got together with a unicorn. The unicorn shared its magic with the horses, taking them for rides through the rainbows and giving them magical gifts. And yes, I loved unicorns, too, especially as a teenager and young adult. I loved all kinds of fantasy fiction and anything involving magic. I was in theatres the day that “The Last Unicorn” movie came out back in the early 80’s! That was an exciting day. As for what makes unicorns popular, I feel they’re sort of symbolic of many aspects of childhood in general. Unicorns are full of goodness, positivity, beauty, unreserved energy, and the kind of magic that makes anything possible, not to mention cupcakes, glitter, and an explosion of color. They’re just plain awesome. What’s not to love?
What’s your hope for this book?
I hope it will make kids think that reading is fun and I hope it will encourage them to make new friends and to embrace their own unique qualities.
That’s beautiful! I have to tell you when you posted that National Unicorn Day happened to be on your birthday, I realized it was the weekend of my niece’s birthday, and she loves unicorns so much, it made her whole week! Can you share the story about how you found out and what you thought about unicorn day?
When I was on submission with the manuscript, I decided to Google whether there was such a thing as “unicorn day” in existence, just out of curiosity. I figured there might be since there are so many unusual holidays these days. Sure enough, I found that Unicorn Day fell right on my birthday–April 9th! I thought that was so funny and rather kismet. And I actually got to go to a unicorn-themed party hosted by my publisher (Sourcebooks) on my birthday! It was so cool. Everyone was wearing a horn. So funny.
That’s so perfect! Speaking of your publisher, did you have a profession before being a full time picture book writer (the absolute dream!)?
Yes, I was a graphic designer and an art director. I really enjoyed it and had no idea there was something out there I would love even more! I feel incredibly lucky to have this job. Beyond lucky. Don’t get me wrong. It IS hard work. But I love the work immensely. Really, a cup of tea and some quiet time to work on revisions or a new story is my idea of a perfect Saturday night!
You and I met through Tara Leubbe’s Writing with the Stars Contest, and you were so helpful, empowering, and inspirational to me and many writers, how did you get involved in that and are there any other outreach like that that you like to do? Can you share anything about how you and your mentee did with the mentorship?
Tara Leubbe asked if I wanted to participate and I was happy to. Rachel Hamby just completed her mentorship, and I hope she found it useful. We worked on some revisions (mostly in relation to story arc) and tried to pinpoint her strongest manuscripts to go out with. She’s very talented and I hope to see her books on shelves one day soon! I’m not doing any other mentorships right now but I will be teaching a class on rhyming picture books through the Highlights Foundation.
That’s so amazing! I’ll be looking forward to seeing her books soon, too. For other picture book writers out there, do you have any advice on promoting books? What do you tend to do to help get the word out about a new book?
Everybody has different preferences. Personally, I like to do a lot of book festivals. I also do giveaways and use social media.
Like this interview! 😉 So excited to giveaway a copy of Pizza Pig. Do you have any advice on how you know which of your ideas will become a great picture book?
I think that’s where outside feedback becomes important. Because I’m not always sure until I share with others and hear their opinions.
That’s great advice! For some new writers the idea that the writer often isn’t a part of the illustrations is a bit nerve wracking, what’s your take?
Oh, it’s a wonderful thing. Seeing the illustrations is always the best part. The artist brings their expertise to the table. They have skills you don’t have. Just enjoy the ride! The collaborative nature of picture books makes them special and full of surprises. That being said, I’m very appreciative when the publisher shares sketches (through different phases) with me and lets me comment. It’s definitely beneficial to the final product. The text and illustrations have to mesh. There are inevitably some issues that pop up and it’s best to catch them early. In some instances, it might even be a better idea to tweak the text to match the illustrations, rather than the other way around. Basically, you just have to be open to the collaborative process. I always phrase things as suggestions, and I stay open to different opinions.
That’s a beautiful way to look at it, and I love how you’re so willing to adapt; publishers must love you! Finally, if you got the chance to spend an afternoon with your favorite author, would you rather: go outside and fly a kite or sit by the fire and have tea?
Sit by the fire and have tea! That sounds very cozy.
If you want to find out more about Diana, her books, or her workshops, check out her website: https://www.dianamurray.com/. Get out there and support your favorite authors! Buy, review, comment, share!
If you want to get in on the GIVEAWAY of Diana’s sweet and funny beginning reader Pizza Pig, make sure to comment below!
Also, side note for all my readers, if you want to get a book that helps your hubby to enjoy storytime with your tykes, get Diana’s Ned the Knitting Pirate. My husband and Dad both love this story almost as much as my daughter does!