Please describe the book.
From the flap: “With joyful, impressionistic illustrations for Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Chris Raschka and spare, rhythmic text that invites playful interaction, If You Were a Dog is the perfect read-aloud for your favorite little animal.”
As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes?
When I first started writing this book – I was all over the board in terms of what
the kids might imagine being. A dog? A cat? A cloud? A paintbrush? Eventually,
I revised and settled on using only animals. The other main difference between
the first drafts and the final version is the ending – which was non-existent
for years. Originally, the book was just a bunch of seemingly non-connected,
yet fun and poetic questions.
How did those changes come about?
I focused on using only animals after one of my critique group members (a nonfiction writer) mentioned that some of the scenarios were animate and some were inanimate objects and it bothered her! It hadn’t bothered me until that moment – but then I clearly saw how I was not focused in the manuscript. The ending came about after Phyllis Root suggested that an ending that tied everything together might be a good thing. The moment she suggested I do this, it became clear to me what was missing and I added the final piece of the puzzle!
As far as copy-edited version changes – the only change made from the original purchased text to the finished text was one sentence. The original sentence read, “But you are not a dog, or a cat, or a fish, or a bird, or a bug, or a frog, or a dinosaur or anything of the sort … you are a kid who can …” My editor took out the words “you are a kid who can” and suggested simply “… you can…” which is fine, it has the same meaning, but in truth, I still like my version better! hee hee hee …
The one thing I am surprised that didn’t change are all the hyphens. I used a lot of them because I love them so. I thought they would be the first thing to go. “If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick, lickety-sloppidy, scavange-the-garbage, frisbee-catching, hot-dog-stealing, pillow-hogging, best-friend-ever sort of dog?” See. Lots of hyphens. In this case, they are
necessary modifiers. I will, however, concede that in most cases I overuse them. Sorry. I am working on that issue. My critique group had FITS over this manuscript and kept arguing whether I was using the hyphens correctly or not. Eventually, I decided to just let the future editor decide and kept the hyphens they way I wanted them.
When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
This book was one that initially flowed out of me in the course of a few days – but then took a few years to figure out why it wasn’t working. The book sold in Dec. 2009 – my first sale! And will be out in Sept. 2014. That was a long, yet worthwhile, wait.
What research was involved before and while writing the book?
I actually did do a lot of research when writing this book – I wanted to know what dogs, cats, fish, birds, bugs, frogs, and dinosaurs really did before playing with how I described each one. I find it helpful to read nonfiction articles about the animals I’m using in my picture books because I often stumble upon a word, a description, an action, or a sound that I might not have thought about if I was just relying on my own brain to think it up.
Boom! Boom! Boom! , your first book, was published in 2013. What have you learned about the business of writing since then?
That it doesn’t get any easier once one book, two books, or three books are in the world. Each book is its own challenge and the writer needs to focus on the work at hand – not the books that are already out. It’s easy to get distracted from the work-in-progress while trying to support the books that are out there – there needs to be a balance between creative writing time and marketing support time. Also, one writer can only do so much to support any book – the rest is up to the publisher and the world.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I write at my kitchen table and in my head as I walk my dogs.
Do you remember the first book you loved?
The first book I truly loved was Katie John by Mary Calhoun. It was an early chapter book; I bought it from the school book fair. I read that book about a hundred times when I was in second and third grade. I wish I still had a copy of it so I could read it again, but, alas, it was lost at some point as I grew into longer books such as Anne of Green Gables. (I just Googled Katie John and see that it’s available online – hooray for the internet!)
Jamie A. Swenson is a July 2009 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives and writes in Janesville, Wisconsin. To learn more about Jamie and her writing, please visit her website.