Check This Out: Toby

Glad you stopped by the blog. Someone else is here too: the fabulous Stacy Nyikos. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, Toby, published by Stonehorse Publishing, debuts June 30. Toby was illustrated by Shawn Sisneros, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Stacy is represented by Stephen Fraser. To make your visit to the blog a profitable one, I’ll tell you about a giveaway at the end of the interview. Let’s talk to Stacy first, shall we?

El Space: Welcome to the blog, Stacy. Four quick facts about yourself?
Stacy: (1) I’m afraid to swim in the ocean—sharks!—but I love to write about it.
(2) I have a secret stash of dark chocolate in my desk drawer for those times when the writing gets tough. (3) I walked to the local high school when I was three by following the neighbor boy because I was bored. I thought school would be more exciting. It was! (4) I used to try to levitate rocks in bed at night because I wanted to be a Jedi.

Stacy photo

Stacy’s secret stash

El Space: Please walk us through the process for creating this picture book. How did you come up with the idea? How was the illustrator chosen? How long was the process from the initial concept to finished product?
Stacy: Toby was the brain child of a lot of very eager readers I met over the years while doing signings at aquariums. So many asked, “Would you write a picture book about a sea turtle?” I wanted to, but I could never quite come up with the right idea. Then a few years ago, I was driving back from an aquarium event, my head full or more requests for a sea turtle book. I think they must have reached some sort of critical mass—or bonded together and created their own idea—but by the time I got home, I had the outline of Toby in my head.

Shawn Sisneros loves underwater animals as much as I do. He’s illustrated two other aquatic picture books I wrote. He has this awesome way of creating a character who looks like the real animal but is generalized enough, sort of like a cartoon figure, so that the reader can imagine themselves in the role as they read the story.

How long did the project take? Well, if you skip the five years of mulling over to get the idea, from the moment I finally had one until the book came out was about four years. Writing books takes patience in a way I never imagined!

El Space: You have a number of sea-oriented picture books. What draws you over and over to the ocean habitat?
Stacy: I’m mesmerized by the ocean. I’m scared stiff of swimming in it, but at the same time can’t seem to learn enough about it. We know so little about what goes on underneath the surface of the water. For a long time, scientists didn’t think anything could live really, really far down in the ocean. It was too dark and cold and the water too heavy. Then they built subs that could travel really far down in the water and lo and behold, they found lots of life there. The ocean is full of possibility. I think that’s what draws my imagination back to it over and over.

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El Space: Awhile ago, Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and many other writers wrote a picture book manifesto. If you could write your own manifesto, what would you write to show your thoughts about picture books?
Stacy: Man, it’s hard to improve upon greatness. Their manifesto hits upon so many good points. Let’s see. Challenge your audience. They aren’t afraid of big words or topics. You shouldn’t be either.

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Murakami, HarukiEl Space: What books or authors influence you as a writer?
Stacy: I love all things written from Machiavelli to Berkeley Breathed to Mary Stewart, but I don’t like to reread (bad, bad author!), so when it comes to influences, it’s more these obscure nuggets I’ve collected and spun together in my own gyre of writing style—“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” from Tolstoy. Hemingway wrote standing up (or so the legends go) so that he only wrote what was absolutely necessary. “If you read the books everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” (Haruki Murakami). The best piece of advice Stephen King got from an editor was: “2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%.” And my daughter, Sophia, who taught me that making up words is fun: Geroninball!

El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write picture books?
Stacy: Imagination is everything. You can have lousy style. You can be the worst speller. You can overwrite, underwrite, break the unbreakable rules, but if it’s imaginative, you will find your way. Your imagination, the way you see the world, is what makes your work new and different and like nothing anyone has ever read before. Write from there.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stacy: I usually work on a couple of projects at a time. I’m rewriting a YA novel called Skin Deep which is basically a retelling of Moses set in a Blade Runner-esque world that I started during my MFA. I’m tweaking a picture book, Attack of the Glazed Donut Monster, and I’m in the end stages of research on an historical novel about an 18-year old’s adventures from the Mississippi River through the Battle of the Bulge that is loosely based on my grandfather’s life. When I first started writing, I worried the ideas would run out. Nowadays, I worry I won’t have time to explore them all!

Thanks, Stacy, for being my guest!

Looking for Stacy? You don’t have to head to the nearest ocean. You can find her at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Or, check out the other picture books by Stacy: Shelby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Squirt (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Rope ’Em! (illustrated by Bret Conover).

Toby is available here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Two of you will win a copy of this picture book. Just comment to be entered in the drawing. Tell us your favorite marine animal as you comment. Winners will be announced on June 16. Thanks for stopping by!

Ocean photo from blirk.net. Haruki Murakami photo from bogbrokken.blogspot.com.

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21 thoughts on “Check This Out: Toby

  1. The book sounds Geroninball!!!
    That secret stash is no longer secret, you know 🙂 Just after D-Day, I have to say that I would look forward to reading that book on Stacy’s grandfather’s life.
    Oh yes-marine animal.It would have to be shark. Don’t get me wrong-I wouldn’t want to swim with them like some crazy people do! But my favourite film, since being a kid, is Jaws. But I think they got a bad press.

  2. Stacy. Please go for a swim in the sea. I will not read your book until you do! You’re missing out. Octopus. I caught one once when rock pooling in Malibu. I saw a tentacle disappear into a hole in the rocks, put my hand in and eventually prized it out. I then put it in a rock pool and showed it a bunch of visiting school kids. I think there teacher was a bit miffed as I took over her lesson for a bit.

  3. Thanks for introducing us to Stacy and Toby! I too am mesmerized by the ocean, but I will rarely swim in it, unless it’s the Caribbean. I don’t like swimming in water where I’m unable to see what is swimming around me. 🙂

  4. Thanks for putting together such an awesome interview! I had so much fun. I do put my toes in the ocean, but I hate getting in where it’s murky. I’ve taken on waves on Big Beach on Maui and most of the time, I’m watching for sharks. Sad but true. I have this crazy, unfounded fear of them! I’m not saying they aren’t potentially dangerous, but rather, they’re reputation (and my fear) far exceeds their actual attack rate.

  5. Love the interview! And TOBY is wonderful! Someone was asking today about compelling picture book characters and I just had to tell her about Toby the sea turtle. Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait for the book.

  6. Pingback: Are You This Rose? | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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