So, here goes!
JDB: Amazing 5 books in 18 months! That doesn't happen to all children's writers. What was the key to your success?
Miranda: I don’t know if there’s one single key. I’m also cautious around using the word “success” — it can be a dangerous word, and can mean vastly different things to different people. I built up a body of work, and then when my agent began to query, there were a lot of manuscripts ready to go.
JDB: What was your inspiration for 10 Little Ninjas? Did the original story write itself, or did you struggle with every word?
Miranda: My own kids seem to go through phases of clever bedtime-stalling antics. My extended family is pretty large, and my husband also comes from a family with 10 kids (he’s the baby!). I wanted 10 Little Ninjas to be fun and funny, but also sweet. The original idea came quickly, but I struggled through many choices, deletions, and endings over the course of several years.
JDB: I understand you have three distinct versions of the manuscript, and went through many revisions. What were the darlings you had to kill in the process?
Miranda: The original pirate stanza rhymed “booty” and “pa-tootie”, which I loved. The book is better off without those lines, but my finger hovered over the delete key for awhile before I was able to press down. Critique partners and editors pull you back to reality and help you recognize stronger and better choices.
JDB: What was it like to collaborate with Nate Wragg, a Disney Pix animator? Any surprises?
Miranda: I’ve never met Nate, nor did we speak directly during the process. (This is often a surprise to people to know that you don’t have to illustrate your picture book or provide any art notes!) My editor and the Art Director at Knopf handled all of the communication between us. My favorite surprise is how Nate gave each character a distinct color outfit, shining-star moment, and personality. It’s interesting to see how Mom is portrayed in each scene. Some of them are particularly clever.
JDB: In that case, which ninja was the most fun to create?
Miranda: You’re asking me to choose a favorite kid?! Well...the 1 little cuddlebug sleeping on Daddy’s head was my favorite. Both of my kids (and cats) have done this—sneak all the way from their beds into ours, and fall asleep on top of our faces, etc. Basically, that stanza was written from personal experience. It’s also the “heart” of the book in a way.
JDB: Awwww . . .sweet! So, what's your secret to getting your own Ninjas to bed?
Miranda: Nowadays if they say they’re bored at any point during the day, I make them run laps around the yard. As a result, they’re always tired by sunset.
JDB: Since yours is a rhyming picture book, do you have any tips for writing great rhyme?
Miranda: Read a lot of current rhyming books, get some thick skin and a sharp editor’s eye, and read Dori Chaconas’s article, “Icing on the Cake”.
JDB: Helpful ideas. Thanks, Miranda! What takeaway do you want your readers to experience after reading 10 Little Ninjas?
Miranda: I want them to think the book was fun and that they want to read it again and again!
JDB: I'd say that's a universal goal of all writers! So, tell us about your dedication page. . .
Miranda: I wrote a whole piece on that over at Laura Sassi’s blog, so I’ll post the link here: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/a-handful-of-books-miranda-paul-and-her-picture-book-10-little-ninjas/
JDB: Which book was easiest to write up to this point, and why? The most labor intensive?
Miranda: The fastest book I ever wrote isn’t out yet - it’s called Are We Pears Yet? The book is coming out with Neal Porter Books (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) in Fall 2017. But...just because I wrote it fairly quickly and my editor loved it right away doesn’t tell the whole story. I waited nearly two years before an illustrator signed on (the fabulous Carin Berger) and then there were some significant changes I made to the text once she began, because of some style choices we made cooperatively. This just proves that all books are labor-intensive in different ways.
JDB: Well, I can't wait to read it! What drew you to writing for children in the first place? What's the most rewarding part of your career?
Miranda: My husband would probably answer this by confessing to everyone that I’m just a grown-up child, or at least young at heart (and silly). The most rewarding part of my career, hands down, are the readers themselves. They’re remarkable. I love getting the chance to meet them or hear from them through their letters.
JDB: I understand your husband, Baptiste Paul, is a writer as well. Did you ever guess when you married that this was the path you would take?
Miranda: Although we used to write, read, and attend poetry readings together long before we were married, I don’t think either of us considered it as a viable career option back then. Neither of us met an author at a young age, and are each first-generation in terms of certain life experiences. I’m glad that our lives have been rich with experience and that we were blessed with great teachers and mentors. It’s really remarkable that Baptiste and I get to do this together—I’m looking forward to a particular book we’re co-writing.
JDB: That's amazing. What an opportunity! Then, tell us a bit about your family:
Miranda: Two kids, a cat named dog, beetles, fish, a dozen monarchs (for the moment), and whatever else my son has collected for the day. We also host exchange students from time to time. Never a dull moment in the Paul Household, that’s for sure!
JDB: Well, that certainly sparks fun ideas for future stories! Since you spent time teaching in Gambia years ago, what did you come to love about the culture? Did you experience culture shock?
Miranda: I don’t know that I’m the kind of person who experiences culture shock. As someone who can be introverted, it can be difficult to transition to a new community, especially one as social as the village where I lived. But I’ve come to love so much, especially my host family and good friends. There’s also food, of course—domodaa (peanut butter stew with rice), tapalapa (stone oven baked bread), and mangoes so big they’re hard to hold in one hand. I love learning words in other languages where there isn’t a direct translation in English, because those words explain so much about a culture or place.
JDB: Okay, stop. Your making my mouth water! Since your husband hails from St. Lucia, you've embraced the culture fully. What have you found most engaging?
Miranda: Warmth, friendliness, and a life lived alongside nature, without as many “things” or “distractions”.
JDB: Sounds like a writer's paradise. Anything you can share about yourself that few people know?
- I love making pizza dough.
- I don’t eat red meat or pork.
- I was once in a Janis Joplin cover band.
I’ll leave it at that!
JDB: Wow! For our readers, check out this link for more fun facts about Miranda: http://mirandapaul.com/11-fun-facts-about-miranda-paul/
JDB: Any last words for writers who feel as though their manuscripts will never be published?
Miranda: There are so many options for printing or publishing a book today. I wouldn’t lament rejections, just focus on what you really want to accomplish and why you’re doing it. Don’t compare yourself to others.
JDB: Good point. Thanks for your time, Miranda. All the best!
Miranda Paul is a award-winning children’s author of One Plastic Bag and Water is Water, both named Junior Library Guild selections. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several recommended and “best of” reading lists. Miranda’s newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month (August 2016). Miranda makes regular appearances at schools, libraries, and bookstores, and has been a guest presenter at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center along with environmental activist Isatou Ceesay. Miranda also serves as Mentorship chair for We Need Diverse Books™ (www.diversebooks.org), volunteers for Books for Africa, and is a regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers (Wisconsin Chapter). She believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more about her current and forthcoming titles at www.mirandapaul.com.
Find Miranda here:
TWITTER - @Miranda_Paul
FACEBOOK - Facebook.com/AuthorMirandaPaul