Delightfully Weird

The other day, I watched a 2019 animated movie called Klaus on Netflix. Maybe you’ve seen it? It was written and directed by Sergio Pablos, a former Disney animator. Click here to get the Wikipedia explanation for it.

When a scene from the movie popped up on Netflix, there was something about the weird looking town and people that instantly appealed to me. They reminded me of art by Edward Gorey—surreal, but in color. If you’re not familiar with who Edward Gorey is, click here. More than likely, you’ve seen his work somewhere. Here’s a clue: if you watched Mystery on PBS back in the day, his artwork was used in the intro. Click here for a video of that. You know it’s old, because Vincent Price used to be the host. He died in 1993.

Anyway, back to Klaus—this post is not a review of that movie, but merely an expression of my admiration for how gutsy Pablos was to retell such a familiar story—the story of Santa Claus—in such a quirky way. Though I was not directly reminded of the movie Elf, I was reminded of how I felt watching Elf for the first time—how it captured my attention immediately to the point where watching it became a yearly tradition.

Klaus is not like Elf though. Many of the characters in the film are unlikable for quite some time. For me that is usually a serious strike against a film. Normally, I would’ve stopped watching it. But the premise was so weird, engaging, and oddly sweet, that I couldn’t stop looking at it.

It’s not for everybody though, I’m sure, especially since some aspects of it do not make  sense. But it caused me to consider how a filmmaker or an author can retell an old story in a fresh way without going off the rails. I wish I had tips for how that can be done. Though I don’t usually retell stories, I started a fairy tale retelling a couple years ago, but stopped, having lost inspiration for it along the way. So I admire the people who stick with a retelling and wind up getting their story published.

Well, now I will segue to an original story told by the great Sandra Nickel. The winner of Big Bear and Little Fish is Jennie!

   

Jennie, please comment below to confirm. Please note that the book will not be sent until after Sandra’s book signing (after September 24). If you have a particular dedication, please let me know in the comments. And thank you to all who commented.

Klaus poster from Wikipedia. Klaus cast and black and white image from somewhere on the internet. Klaus Krum-Ellingboe image from Jasonsmovieblog

Check This Out: Big Bear and Little Fish

I’m so glad to welcome back to the blog the amazing Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, Big Bear and Little Fish. It was illustrated by Il Sung Na and published on September 6 by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

Check out the book trailer:

El Space: Well, now, you’ve gone from nonfiction to fiction! Congratulations! Please tell us how this book came about.
Sandra: After you and I graduated with our MFAs in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I did an extra semester. This time, I focused on picture books, and had the great luck to study with Kathi Appelt, who as you know, is a Newbery Honoree and a two-time National Book Award finalist. During that semester, I worked on nonfiction, but I also wanted to understand how some of my favorite fiction authors did what they did. I was particularly fascinated by Arnold Lobel, who wrote stories with heart and humor, and a touch of philosophy.

I read every single one of Lobel’s stories. I read them slowly and repeatedly over a period of four weeks. After I finished, I didn’t have much time for the writing I owed Kathi Appelt. I was worried. But then, I opened my laptop and Bear and Little Fish tumbled out. I think Kathi was a little surprised when they landed on her desk. They were so different from everything else I had sent her. But there they were, all the same, a bear and a fish.

 

El Space: How did you shape this tale of friendship? Did you base Bear or Fish on people you know or did you start from scratch? Why or why not?
Sandra: I didn’t consciously base Bear or Fish on anyone. But I must admit that I’m a lot like Bear. I’m a worrier, as she is. I try hard to get things right, but so often don’t. So, I guess you could say, I’m Bear. And what about Fish? Thanks to your question, I’ve realized that Fish is a conglomerate of my close friends. She’s thoughtful, a bit of a philosopher, and wonderfully positive and upbeat. She’s a fantastic friend like my friends and the perfect counterpoint for the worriers of the world.

El Space: Kirkus called Big Bear and Little Fish a “lovely, gently humorous story,” and “a delightful tale.” I totally agree. What were the challenges that came with writing your book?
Sandra: There really weren’t any challenges. As soon as I opened my laptop after reading Arnold Lobel’s books, Bear and Fish were there. I had heard other authors talk about how their books wrote themselves. How characters showed up and talked to them. How the characters told their own story. But this had never happened to me, not until Bear and Fish. And what a joy it was to listen to them and write down their story! It was so much easier than my nonfiction books, with their months of research and just as many months of reducing that research down to a thirty-two-page story.

El Space: Il Sung Na’s illustrations are just perfect for your book. Do you have a favorite spread? If so, which one?
Sandra: I 100% agree about Il Sung Na being the perfect illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. I had this incredible wave of joy the first time I saw the final illustrations. That cover! The look on Bear’s face is so befuddled, you can’t wait to throw open the book and find out what is going on. And those endpapers! I laugh each time I see Il Sung’s vignettes of Bear’s different emotional states as she adjusts to the idea of a little fish being in her life.

As for my favorite spread, hmm, that’s a tough one. I really do love all the illustrations. But for you, L. Marie, I made myself choose one—well, two. I love the spread where Bear is bringing Fish home for the first time. Il Sung has given Bear an extremely worried expression and emphasized her emotional state by casting her in a purple shadow that is reminiscent of a dark fairytale forest. The combination of setting and Bear psychology is brilliant! Bookending this spread, toward the end of the story, is Bear after she’s walked through all the shadows and worry. Here, she’s on the other side of her discoveries about Fish, and more importantly, the discoveries about herself! She is surrounded by bright light, she carries Fish on her head, and is thrilled with her place in the world. The juxtaposition of these two spreads is inspired and so fulfilling for the reader.

El Space: Your book is so quirky. Are there any humorous picture books that inspired you? If so, which ones?
Sandra: You’ve already heard about Arnold Lobel and how he inspired me. During my extra semester, I also read other friendship stories. George and Martha by James Marshall and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. We’re all used to these stories now, having read them since childhood, so we may have forgotten how really quirky the characters in these books are. George likes to peek in windows. Martha loves looking at herself in mirrors so much that she wakes up during the night to look at herself some more. And as for the Hundred Acres Wood, it includes a piglet who is scared of nearly everything, an owl who is not as smart as he thinks he is, a donkey who has become synonymous with doom and gloom, and a bear who thinks he is empty headed but is, in fact, quite the philosopher. Each of these characters is fun and funny because of their utter uniqueness. When it comes to humor, the more the character is filled with foibles, the more fun it is.

   

El Space: How will you challenge yourself next? What are you working on?
Sandra: I just received an offer for my most recent nonfiction book, so I think I’ll turn to fiction again. Maybe a garden story. Or, one about friends. Or, one about ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even dream up a sequel to Big Bear and Little Fish. Wouldn’t that be fun!?!

Yes it would! Thank you, Sandra, for being my guest!

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Big Bear and Little Fish? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

One of you will received a signed copy of Big Bear and Little Fish. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Check out Sandra’s other books:

 

Author photo, Big Bear and Little Fish book covers and spread courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Il Sung Na. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Kathi Appelt photo from the VCFA website.

Expert Advice

First, let me announce that this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.

The other day, I thought about expertise and what exactly makes someone an expert. Years of experience? A large social media platform? When you seek advice, do you seek advice from an expert? It really depends on what you need, right? After all, you wouldn’t go to someone for legal advice who was still in law school. But you might go to that law student if you were looking for advice about the application process, since that person successfully completed the process.

When it comes to publishing, I usually look for someone who can offer me more experiential knowledge than I currently have. Though I have many years of experience in publishing, I still don’t consider myself an expert, because no one masters every imaginable genre in publishing. So there’s always something to learn, especially from a fellow writer, an editor, or an agent. Even as an editor, I can only give an opinion to the author about what may or may not need to change—even in line edits.

Awhile ago I pitched a manuscript to a mentorship program where mentorships are offered by published novelists if your pitch is picked. Once chosen (not everyone is) you would then submit your manuscript to the mentor or mentors who would then help you to submit it to an agent. The one I’m referring to is this one. Click to find out more information. That’s one way of seeking expert advice.

What expert advice have you sought recently? Were you satisfied with the result? While you consider your answer, let’s celebrate the winners of the following:

Laura Bruno Lilly’s Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) (Click here for the interview.)

and Sandra Nickel’s Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Click here for the interview.)

The winners of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) are

Jennie

Nancy Hatch

The winner of Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is

S. K. Van Zandt!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Covers and photos courtesy of the composer and author. Expert image expertly done by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

At long last I have posted. I’m thrilled to have on the blog once more the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, the gorgeous Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, published on March 8 by Abrams and beautifully illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia.

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

El Space: You’ve written books about the invention of nachos and about astronomy. So what made you turn to meteorology?
Sandra: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? Nachos. Dark Matter. Clouds. What do they have in common? The through line is that Ignacio Anaya, Vera Rubin, and Joanne Simpson each achieved something incredible, yet they remain unknown to most. I wanted to help broadcast their achievements. I wanted kids to know about them. Nacho invented nachos. Vera discovered dark matter. And Joanne was not only a trailblazing female meteorologist, but she also sparked a whole field of science by creating the first mathematical model of clouds—a model that helped us predict upcoming weather.

   

El Space: What did you do to prepare to write Joanne’s story?
Sandra: Before Joanne died, she gave boxes and boxes of her scientific and personal papers to Harvard University. I went to Harvard and looked through everything in those boxes. I learned about her discoveries, examined her work and family photographs, reviewed her personal thoughts, and read what others said about her in newspaper and scholarly articles. Then, I took all of that, keeping a clear eye on how Joanne told her own story, and formulated that into a story for children. It’s fascinating and challenging to learn about a life with its many facets and then try to reduce it down to the 32 pages that are normally in a picture book.

El Space: Since Joanne Simpson was such a trailblazer, I can’t help thinking of Vera Rubin, another trailblazer you featured in a book. [See cover above. Click here for more information.) What do these trailblazers inspire in you?
Sandra: It wasn’t easy for Joanne and Vera. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the barriers for women in science were higher than for women in other areas. Joanne was the very first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Meteorology. One of her professors told her that no woman ever had, and no woman ever would. But, Joanne did. Vera also faced strong resistance as a woman in astronomy. What I admire about these women is that they went on to actively support the young scientists coming after them. Just think about all the female meteorologists we see on TV these days. That’s thanks to Joanne. As one young meteorologist said, Joanne didn’t just blaze a trail, she blazed an entire road.

El Space: I love what this Publishers Weekly review says:

Enlivening simply relayed cloud facts (“Just like people, cumulus clouds are born, grow, and die. But unlike people, they exist for no longer than two hours”), Nickel threads the well-paced tale with myriad weather-related metaphors.

First, congrats on this great review. I wish I could think of a weather-related metaphor to aptly describe your beautiful prose! What do you do to hone your craft?
Sandra: I read. I read a lot. And then, for the science-based stories I tell, I try to think of ways to make the stories engaging and understandable for children. In the case of Breaking Through the Clouds, I used weather-related metaphors, as Publishers Weekly mentions. Then, of course, I have lots of people read my drafts before I submit to my agent and editors. There is nothing in this world like having others read your work and tell you how it reads to them.

El Space: How much collaboration was involved in the picture side of things? How did you communicate with the illustrator, Helena Perez Garcia?
Sandra: Since I had the chance to visit Harvard, but Helena didn’t, I sent photos that I had taken of Joanne’s notebooks and the pictures Joanne archived there. I also fielded questions she had—scientific questions, but also time-period questions, such as what type of projector Joanne used when she watched films of clouds. I sent all of this information via our editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams, so Helena and I never spoke directly until the book was finished. It’s always fascinating to speak with an illustrator after the project is done and learn about their process. If anyone is interested, you can read about Helena’s work on Breaking Through the Clouds here.

El Space: You have another picture book debuting later this year—Big Bear and Little Fish. Congratulations! What will you work on next?
Sandra: I always have a few projects going at the same time. I have a picture book about the secret creator of the Tiffany Lamps (hint: it wasn’t Louis Tiffany as everyone thinks). I’m working on a story inspired by my three uncles who are blind. I have a story about a pigeon. And, I’m working on a collaboration with a wonderful writer, L. Marie about two girls who share a love of creating hats.

El Space: 😊 Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

Sandra: Thanks so much, Linda! It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you about books and the craft of writing.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Breaking Through the Clouds? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

Good news! One of you will received a free copy of Breaking Through the Clouds. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and Breaking Through the Clouds book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Big Bear and Little Fish cover from Goodreads.

Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

may-th-day-month-simple-calendar-icon-w

Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.

Um, So Next Week Then?

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Hi! Sorry about the shortness of this post and the fact that once again I am posting on Saturday. This week, I said I would announce the winners of these books.

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

The week got away from me due to a tough project that I am slowly, carefully working on. Every time I looked up, another day had passed. And here I am writing this post on a Friday!

With that in mind, I unfortunately have to postpone the announcement of the winners until early next week. You might wonder, Why not do it now? I like to take my time writing posts, even a post to announce the winners of the books I’m giving away. Besides, the winners have not yet been generated.

Once again, I’m sorry. See you, hopefully, next week.

Jean Luc Picard facepalm from fanpop.

Check This Out—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Welcome to the blog! Returning to the blog today is the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book biography, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. It was published by Abrams in March of this year and was illustrated by the amazing Aimée Sicuro.

SandraNickel   TheStuffBetweenTheStars

Check out the fab book trailer.

If you’ve been around the blog over the years, you know the drill. Once I talk to Sandra, I’ll tell you how you can get this book for free in a drawing that I am hosting.

El Space: Since your picture book is all about astronomy: If you could name a star, what would you name it?
Sandra:
Does it have to be one star? Or can it be a star cluster like the Pleiades? I always loved the idea of the Seven Sisters, up in the sky, named after their mother. My mother gave birth to three of us. Maybe we could be the Eleanores.

El Space: How did you come to this project? Sadly, I didn’t know anything about Vera Rubin until I read your book. I certainly didn’t know her connection to the study of dark matter.
Sandra:
I also didn’t know about Vera Rubin, not until Kate Hosford (below), a wonderful picture book author, texted me and told me about a tribute to her in The New York Times. I read the article and was captivated. I started researching that very day.

red photo cropped

El Space: Tell us about the research. How did your findings help you decide on the story angle? At what point did you decide you’d done enough research to make a start or to conclude the writing?
Sandra:
When I read The New York Times article, Vera had died two days before and papers were flooded with homages to her. After reading these, I found articles and a book Vera had written. The greatest discoveries, however, were interviews with Vera. They gave such a clear vision of her personality, childhood, home life, and struggles.

For the most part, editors no longer require picture book biographies to tell a person’s story from cradle to grave. They are looking for a story that fits into the classic story structure. Introduction. Rising Action. Climax. Resolution. I had the introduction early on, because Vera said she fell in love with stars when she was eleven. The climax had to be her discovery. That left me searching for rising action. Vera had so many challenges thrown in her path—far more than made it into the book. Once I was confident that I had found the most important ones, I knew I had enough to start putting the rising action together. The trick was to select experiences that resonate with children. I chose the experience illustrated below because everyone can understand how awful it is to be the only one against a crowd.

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

El Space: Your book is so beautifully written. How challenging was it to explain scientific concepts in picture book form?
Sandra:
From the beginning, I knew I needed to come up with imagery that would help children understand. I searched and searched for different ways to describe gravity, galaxies, and dark matter. Once I had all of these in my head, it became very clear that these same descriptions could be used to portray Vera Rubin’s life itself. It was challenging from the point of view of filling my mind with new ideas. Minds don’t always want to accept new things. But once that was done, it wasn’t challenging at all. The metaphors appeared as if they had always been there.

El Space: How long was the process from writing to publication? Did you have much contact with the illustrator, Aimée Sicuro? Why or why not?
Sandra:
It took over four years from the afternoon I read The New York Times article to the day The Stuff Between the Stars came out. With some nonfiction picture books, the writer and illustrator need to exchange information because the writer discovers photographs and descriptions through private sources not available to the general public. My book Nacho’s Nachos was that way. The Stuff Between the Stars was completely different. There are a number of photographs of Vera Rubin online, and Aimée Sicuro discovered each one of them. She asked for only one thing from me: one of Vera’s equations. She incorporated it into the gorgeous illustration below where Vera stays up working at night as her family sleeps.

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

El Space: What did you learn about Vera’s life that inspired you in your own life?
Sandra:
The greatest Vera Rubin lesson is: Choose your own way. I know that seems cliché. But it’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to fall into thinking that life is just hard, that suffering is part of the journey. I love that Vera said, I don’t like being treated harshly, I don’t like all the negativity. I love that she found a way far from all that and then discovered something bigger than everyone else. I’ll never discover something as immense as dark matter, but by doing things my way, my writing will hopefully be infused with joy. Because it makes me happy. And that is marvelous already.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra:
There’s a book I’m working on right now with an editor that I hope will bring readers the kind of joy I’m talking about. It involves a very big bear and a very little fish who see the world in very different ways.

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about The Stuff Between the Stars, check out this video produced by the Smithsonian. In it, Sandra reads the book and interviews Aimée Sicuro. You’ll also see a fun demonstration by Aimée on painting a galaxy.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for The Stuff Between the Stars? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

But one of you will look in your mailbox or tablet and go, “Oh my goodness! A free book!” Comment below to be entered in a drawing to receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Aimée Sicuro. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. 

Taking Root

So, a dear friend sent me this housewarming gift:

Because that is what kind, wonderful people do. (And for anyone reading this, that was not a hint for you to send a gift. You’re kind and wonderful without that.)

Though I was really pleased and thankful, I also had this reaction:

Because as far as plants are concerned, I have been this:

I texted a Plant Whisperer friend who knows what to do, since I really want these plants (the basket has multiple plants) to survive. She texted me a gif like the following for the plants.

Sigh.

Seriously, being the great friend that she is, she told me what to do for them. Eventually, they will need to be divided into separate pots. But for now, they seem content to be together.

After examining the basket of plants, another awesome friend (I am rich in friends) told me, “These plants are hard to kill.” Guess they’re like terminators in a way, only they aren’t out to kill Sarah Connor or her son John. (If you’re scratching your head, Google the Terminator movies.)

Plants represent for me the need to be planted where I am. Possessing even one has always meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” So, this plant grouping reminds me to put down roots. (Fun fact: some of the tenants of my apartment complex have lived here over forty years! Talk about roots!)

Plants also remind me to be responsible. I can’t just leave for weeks on end without a game plan for their care. Not if I want them to live.

Do you have houseplants? Enjoy caring for them? Or are you indifferent to them? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by another dear friend, Sandra Nickel. See interview here.

   

The winner is Nicki!

Nicki, please comment below to confirm. As usual, I’m grateful to all who commented.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of the author. Rabbits and Grim Reaper gifs from tenor.com. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the terminator gif from somewhere online. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack

I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.

   

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sandra:
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!

About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.


Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio

El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.

An original nacho in Piedras Negras

What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!

My nachos

El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.

About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.

El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!

El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.

As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!

Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!

Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!

Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:

★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST

“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Nacho’s Nachos? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, or your favorite local bookstore.

Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.

Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.

Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.

All Roads Lead to . . .

crossroadI worked with a guy who should have had his own version of Six Degrees of Separation. Every time I’d mention someone, he either knew that person or knew someone connected to that person. So, if I ever grew angry with my co-worker and wanted to vent, I had no one to talk to about him, because he’d eventually hear about it. I don’t dare mention his name, because you might know him.

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A six-degrees of separation flowchart

Know someone like that? If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction book, The Tipping Point, you know about connectors—people who have an innate ability to connect people to other people. (Read this if you want to know more about connectors.)

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I am probably the only connection-impaired person in a family of connectors. I’m usually the person who goes, “I saw What’s-his-name the other day. You know. He’s married to What’s-her-face.”

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This is me, sort of. Actually, it’s Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (2005). But I relate to the posture of standing alone, or at least standing in the wind trying to recall someone’s name.

Connectors know lots of people. My older brother was one of the most popular people at our high school. He’s always naming people he heard from recently. (To which I usually reply, “Oh yeah. I sorta remember him,” knowing that I’m drawing a blank.) My younger brother was popular at his university. Do you know how difficult it is to be popular at a university which boasts tens of thousands of people? His birthday parties are usually populated by at least 40 of his closest friends. Now, I’ve known my younger brother all of his life, but at a recent party he threw, there were people who came that I did not know.

My dad knows tons of people. My mom always manages to connect to people who know everyone. My parents are used to the connecting way of life, because they’re from large families with a combined total of over twenty siblings (though, sadly, several are dead now). My in-laws also know everyone. I remember being in a mall in Houston with my sister-in-law, only to have her run into someone she knew. (We don’t live in Texas by the way. You know you’re a connector when you bump into people you know while traveling.)

Many bloggers are connectors: Andra Watkins; Jill Weatherholt; K. L. Schwengel; Charles Yallowitz; Marylin Warner; Laura Sibson; Sharon Van Zandt; Lyn Miller-Lachmann; the Brickhousechick; T. K. MorinCeline Jeanjean; Mishka Jenkins; Sandra Nickel—just to name a few. And I have several classmates (besides Laura, Lyn, and Sandra, and Sharon) who are born connectors. Whenever I want to inquire about agents, publishers, marketing, or anything else, I head straight to them for advice.

We look to the connectors in our lives, especially when we need to network, don’t we? It’s nice to know someone who knows someone else trustworthy. Connectors seem to love to match you with people they know. Need your car fixed? They know the perfect place to take your little Yugo. (Remember those?) Need your roof fixed? They know the people you should avoid calling. The only awkward thing about some connectors is that they think they know your taste when sometimes they don’t. Like when I was blindsided at a dinner by a well-meaning connector who tried to match me up with someone who also did not understand that this was a matchmaking meal. Talk about awkward, especially since we had no interest in each other.

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A Yugo

Authors are the ultimate connectors in a way. If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens, you know that in many of his books, he often reveals hidden connections between his characters. Then he adds a connector to connect the dots. Don’t believe me? Read Bleak House or see BBC’s adaptation of it. I won’t spoil the mystery for you.

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The challenge for an author comes with connecting characters in a noncontrived way—and by that I mean beyond shock value. Oh, I know. There’s something fun about the “Luke, I am your father” announcements. Have you explored the connections between your characters in ways that might surprise or delight a reader (or a viewer)? I’m reminded of a movie, Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki, in which the main character, Shizuku, checks out library books and constantly finds the name of another character on the checkout cards. (This movie was made in the 90s, so checkout cards were used then.) He becomes an important connector for her. Knowing your characters’ back stories really helps. I’ve been a bit lazy in regard to back story with some of my characters. Some seem too isolated ala the Lizzie Bennet photo above. I’m trying to rectify that by providing more connecting points (i.e., interactions with friends, family, acquaintances, and enemies).

Connectors are a reminder of the richness of being in a community. I’m grateful for the threads like connectors that link us together.

Who are the connectors in your life?

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Gratuitous chicken photo

Crossroads photo from amersrour.blog.com. Six degrees diagram from commons.wikimedia.org. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet image from pinterest.com. Yugo and chicken photos from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads.