One look at Peter McCleery’s website and you instantly know he’s a funny guy. I first learned of Peter when I was in the get-an-agent trenches. He was being interviewed about how he got his agent and shared his query letter. I tried to write a query in that humorous way, but I could not pull it off with aplomb. But, it worked for Peter and his debut picture book Bob and Joss Get Lost releases February 2017.
What is your writing process? Do you write every day?
The word that might best describe my writing process is “sporadic.” So no, I do not write every day. Or every week. I probably wouldn’t recommend my approach for most people, because I certainly wish I was more productive and steady. Getting my butt in the chair is probably the hardest part of being a writer. An analogy of my writing process is akin to a miner. When I hit a creative vein, I’m enthusiastic and determined and I keep at it regularly until the creative flow dries up. Then I wait around for inspiration. But I long ago realized that the “waiting around” is as essential and productive part of the process as anything else. My mind is working on old ideas, new ideas, figuring out solutions to problems in manuscripts. That part is also “writing.” And it also gives me a good excuse why I’m not as productive as I’d like to be! Bonus!
I also think that it’s important to step back and put some distance between myself and my manuscripts. There’s old advice about putting your work in a drawer and forgetting about it for a while. It’s very valuable advice and works especially well for me because I have a terrible memory and often I’ll reread a manuscript and forget that I wrote entire parts of it. It gives me a very objective perspective. So, this means I have dozens of incomplete manuscripts in various stages of development. I go with the one that’s speaking the loudest and the one I’m most excited about at any given moment.
What was the idea that started Bob and Joss? How long did it take you to write?
The first draft came to me very quickly and completely. I woke up one morning and started writing it. I didn’t know what it was or who these characters were. But I had to get their dialogue and situation down as soon as I could. At that point all it was alternating dialogue between these two very different friends, Bob and Joss. No description, no action, just funny, absurd banter. It was almost like little vignettes or scenes. When I shared it with people almost everyone said, “This is great but it’s not a picture book.” So I shelved it for a few years. But it was always there speaking to me. So one day I pulled it back out and expanded it into an “easy readerish-graphic novel-chapter book type of thing. I sent that version off to my agent and a few weeks later we had a 2-book deal. Because a few publishing houses made offers it was interesting to see the wide range of approaches they had for the book. Some of them saw it as a picture book, one saw it as an early reader graphic novel series, and one wanted to lengthen it and turn it into a chapter book. In the end, HarperCollins’ vision of it as a picture book won out.
The sequel, Bob and Joss Take a Hike! (HarperCollins 2018), was a very different experience. I wrote many, many drafts of various ideas. Then, with a deadline approaching, I finally hit that creative vein I mentioned earlier and then it came somewhat easily. I guess I just had to keep picking away with my Mindaxe and blowing up ideas with my creative TNT.
Your first professional review is out and it was a good one! How nerve-wracking was that process?
I felt a huge amount of relief. When you do something creative you put yourself out there. You make yourself vulnerable. So when someone pats you on the back instead of pointing and laughing, it feels good. I felt even more relief afterward because I decided to google “bad Kirkus reviews” just to see what the alternative could have been. I don’t recommend this. They are known for being brutally honest and they do not disappoint. I feel especially lucky now and my sympathies are with any authors who receive a bad review.
Bob and Joss hit the debut jackpot with Vin Vogel illustrating. What was your reaction when you found out?
Vin is amazing. His images are so expressive, vibrant and fun. Our pairing came together a bit different than most picture books because Vin and I shared an agent. She sort of packaged us together knowing that it was a perfect fit. So, Vin did a few character sketches that were sent along with the manuscript to publishing houses. Most of the editors agreed that he was the perfect illustrator for the job! And he was. What I am impressed with most is how he visually created differences in the characters that are echoed in the dialogue and story. With one look at Bob and Joss you know who they are before they even start talking. That interplay is what makes picture books so special. One other side note: Vin’s illustrations of Bob and Joss look a lot like my two sons. What’s weird is that Vin had never met me or my kids. He had no idea what they looked like. Coincidence or fate?
Have you tried your hand at writing anything that is not humor based?
Well, I have a few works in progress that are not necessarily serious but they aren’t as jokey and absurd as Bob and Joss. I like to think they have more poignancy but still maintain a sense of irony and my particular voice (whatever that is). Back to the mining metaphor. If I’m excited about an idea I will follow it wherever it leads, even to a more serious place. Hopefully, in the future I will expand my comfort zone even further. That said, don’t expect to be reading heartfelt tearjerkers from me. I love writing funny stuff. That’s my wheelhouse.
Thank you Peter! For all contest rules and to apply http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/