Earlier this year I was lucky enough to see Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino at an event featuring their picture book BOY + BOT (which Ame wrote and Dan illustrated). At the event I was enchanted by Ame’s excitement and enthusiasm (which was totally contagious btw) and intrigued by the story of a boy and a robot who become friends. Since then, I’ve read BOY + BOT at quite a few storytimes (always with great success) and started wondering what writing a picture book is really like (and how Ame picks such great colors for her hair! Not to mention hairbows!) Ame is here today to answer some questions about several of those things!
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Ame Dyckman (AD): I tried a bunch of other occupations first. (I was even a costumed character! It’s sweaty.) But I always wanted to write children’s books. Four years ago, I decided to go for it! I went to the library and read mountains of picture books. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and went to lots of events. And at the 2009 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, I signed up for the Agent Pitch Session. (That’s where you have 5 minutes to tell an agent about your manuscript and not get nervous and throw up.) I met Super Agent Scott Treimel of S©ott Treimel NY. I told him about BOY + BOT. (And I did not throw up.) Scott loved my story, I adored Scott (and still do!), we shook on it, and in a very short time, we had an offer from editor Michele Burke at Knopf!
MP: How did you come up with the idea for BOY + BOT?
AD: I’ve always loved friendship-despite-difference stories like FROG AND TOAD and GEORGE AND MARTHA. And I’ve always loved robots—the Tin Man, R2D2 and C3PO, Voltron, etc. When I sat down to write my own unusual friendship story, “with a ROBOT!” kept jumping into my head.
MP: You’re the first picture book author to be interviewed at Miss Print *throws confetti* As such, can you tell us about what your writing process for a picture book looks like?
AD:*throws spaghetti because we’re out of confetti* Thanks! I’m honored! When I write a picture book, it always starts the same way: I get one funny image in my mind, like a still from a cartoon. (For BOY + BOT, this was the “But as they rolled down the hill, a rock bumped the robot’s power switch…” scene.) Then I build the rest of the story. I like to write in the morning, print out what I’ve written, put it in my pocket, and carry it around with me for the rest of the day. Then whenever I get a revision idea, I can change it right away. (And I’m getting much better about remembering to collect all my drafts before I start the laundry!)
MP: As a picture book author, you wrote the text for Boy + Bot. The book was then illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. When writing a picture book do you take the eventual illustrations into account with how you organize the text? What is it like collaborating with an illustrator to tell your story?
AD: I definitely think of the illustrations. The picture book text is just 50% of the story—the pictures are the other 50%. So when I write, I strive to leave that space for the illustrator to do their thing and have fun, too. For example, in BOY + BOT, the lines “They played. They had fun.” were purposely left open so that the illustrator could show their idea of what Boy and Bot played and how they had fun. And wow, what an illustrator I got! You should have seen me running happy laps around the room when I found out I got Dan!
MP: One of my favorite things in Boy + Bot is the sense of symmetry as Boy tries to cure Bot and later when Bot tries to fix Boy’s malfunction. How long did it take you to find the right structure and word choices for this story?
AD: That took a few months! And the tweaking and polishing took several more! All in all, it was about 14 months from the time I had my initial idea of Boy and Bot playing to the completion of the draft that I showed to Scott. (That’s the gestation period of a camel! Completely irrelevant, but interesting.) I’ve been a little speedier with my subsequent manuscripts, though!
MP: Do you have any favorite children’s books/picture books that inspired you to become a children’s author?
AD: I was most inspired by WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. It’s my favorite book. I read it aloud when I do library visits, and watching kids hear it for the first time and love it too is magic!
MP: Time for a really serious question: You dye your hair a lot of fun colors. What’s your favorite color to have your hair? Is it the same as your favorite color in general?
AD: My favorite hair color is the blue I have now. It makes it easy to find me in a crowd, and it makes kids laugh! I like black for clothes, but green’s my favorite for M&Ms and board game playing pieces. So if we ever play Sorry, save me the green piece—and watch your M&Ms bowl!
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
AD: My next book, TEA PARTY RULES, is a humorous eventual friendship story between a bossy little girl and the bear cub who crashes her backyard tea party. It’s edited by Leila Sales, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS), and will be released by Viking in Fall, 2013.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
AD: Read everything in your genre that you can, join SCBWI if you want to write for children, and if anybody tells you can’t become an author, stick your fingers in your ears and shout, “CAN, TOO!”
Thanks again to Ame Dyckman for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information about her books on her website.