Author and MFAC alum Peter Pearson talks about his picture book, How to Walk a Dump Truck (published June 25, 2019).
This vehicular spin on pet adoption features an unlikely pet: a dump truck. Kids will not only laugh, but learn. Just like a new pet, a new dump truck is a heap of responsibility, but it’s also loads of fun. Just remember: If you take care of it well, your dump truck will be your forever friend.
Includes tips on: selecting the perfect leash at the hardware store; whether to feed your truck diesel or regular; cleaning up your truck’s messes at the dump; socializing with other trucks, and much more.
What inspired How to Walk a Dump Truck?
The title. Truly. I was writing a follow-up to my first picture book, HOW TO EAT AN AIRPLANE, and I was just playing around with weird juxtapositions. Step 1: Pick a noun. Step 2: Pick a verb that would never, ever match. Step 3: Write a story in which it does. And now, apparently, it’s a book.
What were the challenges (literary, psychological, logistical, etc.) in bringing this book to life?
One of the biggest challenges of this story was that it was already under contract before I wrote it—I signed a two-book contract for my first book. First-world problems? Of course. However, having that added pressure in the early stages—of Needing To Perform—was hard to overcome. I never really got used to it; I just dragged myself through until it was done.
What did you edit out of this book?
In an editorial twist unique to picture book authors, when I first wrote the manuscript, I’d imagined the dump truck as full-sized and enormous. Upon seeing the illustrations, though, I saw that Mircea had drawn a smaller, puppy-sized dump truck instead. While I’d never considered that possibility, after talking with a few friends, I realized that a small dump truck actually allowed for a new theme to rise up from the words: the theme of growing up. One of the few things that grows even faster than a child is a puppy, so I went back and emphasized the truck’s smallness at the beginning, cut the old ending, and then had the truck grow up on the final spread.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Strum my guitar. Pick my banjo. Search for agates. Squish my baby. Scritch my doggo. Challenge my wife to Scrabble. (Play. Agonize. Lose. Pout. Re-challenge.)
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Everyone resonates with different advice at different times, and what has been useful for me might not be useful for you. That said, here are the bits of Writing Wisdom that have stuck with me:
The way to write a book is to pretend like you know what you’re doing. Just flail around and see what happens. That’s how stories start.
Skip the boring parts. A good story should skip like a stone.
Get used to feeling like a fraud. Wrap it around yourself like a cozy sweater; greet it like an old friend. Everyone suffers from some degree of imposter syndrome, and no amount of success will ever, ever make it go away.
Don’t be too precious about your words. Your final allegiance is to the story you’re telling, not the words you’ve chosen to tell it. You may love those words. You should! Of course you do! You’re a writer! But don’t cling to the words and lose the story. The story is what you’re trying to coax into being. Be open to change.
Many people will give you advice about your writing process. Some of it will work, and some of it won’t. Your entire life is an exercise in discovering and refining your own process. Just because one person does things a certain way doesn’t mean you have to. A good writing process for you is one that results in writing. The rest is just noise.
Finally: Writers sometimes take breaks from writing. Short ones. Long ones. Here’s the main thing: Don’t stop forever. Everything else is negotiable.
What is next for you? What are you working on now?
Honestly, I’m in a bit of a fallow period at the moment—my writing has been on hold since last summer’s arrival of our bouncing baby boy, Jack Antares. (This fallow period, of course, is a complete coincidence that has nothing to do with my last point in the previous question. Nothing at all.) Will I get back to my writing once I start finding my way back into the world? Yes. Have I figured out how to do that? No. But I’m working on it.
What else would you like to add?
Publishing a book doesn’t make you a writer—it just makes you a published writer. If you’re still waiting for that first contract, that first agent, that first anything, remember this: Your work is already real, and it already matters. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
After detours through social services and astrophysics, Peter Pearson earned his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in 2012. Peter has received awards, grants, and other recognition from Hamline, the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Anderson Center. His first picture book, How to Eat an Airplane, was published by Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). He also makes pretty good pancakes and is sort of tall.
Great interview and writing advice, Peter. Congratulations on both your books!