Monday, December 19, 2011

The Pirate and the Penguin

Pirate and the Penguin is a modern take on Mark Twain's classic, "The Prince and the Pauper" written and illustrated by the talented Patricia Storms. Patricia's quirky humor and comical illustrative style are the perfect pairing to bring this parable of finding contentment to life for the children of today.

I asked Patricia if she would share how this story came to be and happily she indulged me. I know you will enjoy reading it as much as I did. She told me to edit to fit our needs but I couldn't. I wanted you to "hear" her voice . She's such a hoot! Thanks, Patricia!

(Be sure and leave a comment to be entered to win this fun and delightful book in our drawing.)

I'm not entirely certain of the timeline, but I think it was around 2006 that I first got the kernel of the idea for The Pirate and the Penguin. I was sitting in a cafĂ© in Toronto with my friend Liam O’Donnell, who is a very talented author of numerous graphic novels. By this point in my career I had illustrated a few books – some humour, some children’s, but what I really wanted to do was write and illustrate my own picture book. So I was drinking coffee and kvetching with Liam about how hard it was to break into the children’s writing market. “If someone really wanted to create a popular picture book,” I snarled, “then they would write a story with a pirate and a penguin in it.” Liam thought it was a great idea, and told me that I should write that story. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment to write a story with those two popular icons – I was just making a flippant comment. But the words ‘pirate and penguin’ had such an appealing sound, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

Over the next few weeks I dithered and dallied, but eventually got the idea of writing a story loosely based on Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Pirate and penguin, prince and pauper – see the connection? Well, at least the alliteration was the same. Now I know that the concept of characters who are unhappy with their lives and want a change is not a new one, but hey – had it ever been done with a pirate and a penguin before? At another coffee chat I threw the idea out to Liam, and he said go for it, write the darn story. But still I dragged my feet, because I was full of self-doubt. I’d never written a picture book before. Maybe the idea was really dumb. Who the heck was I kidding? Every time I met up with Liam he’d say, “Have you written that pirate and penguin story yet?” So I finally got off my fanny and wrote the darn thing. Around this time I joined an online writing critique group, to help me improve the story. Then in 2007 I joined an actual writing class and once again shared my pirate and penguin story. One of the biggest problems was that the story was still too long. It’s not easy to tell an entertaining tale with a spare word count. I still find this a struggle. Then one day out of the blue, I got an email from an editor from one of the big Canadian publishing houses. We had met once, but I’d never sent her any of my writing – she knew me via my illustration work. But she had discovered my blog, liked my writing and basically asked me if I’d ever considered writing picture books. Huh??

I must confess that I’ve been very lucky in that aspect of my career – so often opportunities have landed in my lap simply based on my blog posts. Well, long story short, they thought the story was appealing but in the end turned it down (darn). In the mean time, my friend Liam suggested I send it to a smaller publishing house, Owlkids. I’d never met the editor at Owlkids in person, but I knew that she was familiar with my artwork.
Well, I just happened to see her at a children’s awards gala not long after that, and so armed with a few stiff drinks under my belt, I approached her and asked her if I could send her my story. She said yes (maybe she was scared of this tipsy kooky lady and wanted me to go away?). At first Owlkids turned down the story, but a few months later they changed their minds and that’s when the real work began – creating the characters, and working with the editors to whittle the story away to what is now The Pirate and the Penguin.

So what lessons can we glean from my blatherings?

  1. Make friends with fellow writers. As well as just being awesome people, your writing friends will inspire you and encourage you and sometimes put a blowtorch under your butt to get you writing and submitting.
  2. Get your work on a blog! Be it writing and/or illustrating, the more your work is out there, the better chance you stand at getting noticed. Plus it’s another way to put a blowtorch under your butt to get you creating on a regular basis.
  3. Join writing classes and online critique groups. This is also a good way to make friends with fellow writers and yes, put that blowtorch under your butt to produce work.
  4. Liquor can sometimes be helpful in giving one courage to approach an editor. Though I don’t recommend this as a rule. Ahem.


marlibu said...

This book is too cute. Has my princesses two favorite things pirates and penguins. :)

Michelle Henninger said...

I'm so glad you didn't shorten this! Great story!! And inspiring!

Deb said...

Great interview! Enjoyed that Roz....thanks for not editing :)

jemrah said...

The illustrations are super-cute!

Gina Perry said...

What a great interview and story - thank you Roz and Patricia! The story looks so captivation, just from the illustrations. And a truly beautiful color palette to boot!

Chelsea R said...

My nephews would love this book! It looks adorable. river26[at]gmail[dot]com

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the writing advice and for finally writing the book. That penguin of yours certainly has character. Would love to share this book with my two young ones. My son fancies himself as a pirate. And my two year-old waddles like a penguin.

Happy writing and reading!

Debbie Meyer said...

What fun! I loved reading the interview & can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. The artwork is adorable!!

Diandra Mae said...

We've read this book and my son LOVES it. So fun to hear the creation of the story and how it came to be published. What fun, thanks for sharing your story, Patricia! :)