Thursday, December 19, 2019

Author Interview and Cover Reveal: ALIEN TOMATO by Kristen Schroeder

I'm thrilled to reveal the cover for Kristen Schroeder's debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO, illustrated by Mette Engell, which comes out in July 2020 with Page Street Kids! Check out my interview with Kristen below. We talk about picture books, revising and, of course, ALIEN TOMATO!

It streaked through the sky on a perfect day in July and landed in the garden…

When a mysterious red orb appears one day, the vegetables aren’t sure what to make of it. They decide that it must be an alien tomato! They name her Allie and try to make her feel as welcome as possible. But Gopher isn’t convinced. He’s sure it’s just a ball.
This delightfully silly tale and its equally hilarious art are a perfect fit for gardeners and sci-fi fans alike.

Ok, get ready, the cover is about to be revealed!!

ALIEN TOMATO has such a zany, fun premise! What gave you the original idea? Tell us a bit about the process of creating this story.  

The title was something my daughter blurted out one day. We still have no idea why or how it came out of her mouth, but I wrote it down as a possible story idea. I started thinking about what would happen if a round red object landed in a garden and the veggies thought it was an alien tomato.

Have you always been an avid reader? What was your favorite picture book growing up?

I was a huge reader growing up. My mom was an English teacher and she passed along her love of reading to me. She recently dropped off some of my old picture books and the memories came flooding back. I loved pouring over the illustrations in Richard Scarry’s books and I had quite a few Little Golden Books. My absolute favorites would probably be the Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. It’s a collection of four tiny little books that have their own case. Some of the stories have a subversive tone, for example, in PIERRE, a little boy who continually says, “I don’t care,” eventually gets eaten by a lion. 

What inspires you to write picture books, as opposed to books for older readers?

Because I read my picture books over and over as a child, they had a profound effect on me. There is something magical about putting a combination of words and pictures in the hands of emerging readers. Picture books are a unique art form in that regard. Likewise, books for older children are also hugely important and I am working on a middle grade novel in between picture books.

You're a dual citizen of America and Australia. How has your experience having different homelands influenced your writing?

I think about how my stories will be received in different countries. I definitely have some very “Aussie” stories, that wouldn’t sell in the US. Likewise, being from Minnesota, I have written a snowy, wintery story that wouldn’t be popular down under.

ALIEN TOMATO is your debut! Tell us a bit about what the process of seeing your first book published has been like.

It’s been very exciting and filled with many “pinch me” moments so far. The cover reveal is a fun milestone because I get to share a sneak peek of ALIEN TOMATO’s illustrations for the first time. I am thrilled with Mette Engell’s artwork. I recently got F&Gs (fold and gathered copies) so it’s starting to feel real. The book comes out on July 14, 2020; about seven months from now. I am part of a debut picture book group called the PERFECT2020PBs.  We all have picture books coming out in 2020 and are supporting each other on this author’s journey. We share information on how to promote our books, what kinds of SWAG to order, holding a launch party, scheduling school visits, etc. There’s a lot to think about and I’m glad to have their support!

You're quite active on social media! What advice would you give to debut writers trying to make a place in the #KidLit online community?

My advice is to just dive in. I got on Twitter because of my writing and wanting to connect with the Kidlit community. It took me a little while to figure it out and I’m still learning, but it has been so rewarding to connect with other authors. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, so making those connections is hugely important. We are all learning from each other and I have found the Kidlit community to be extremely generous and supportive.

You recently attended Highlights Foundation's Picture Book Boot Camp. Tell us about your experience!

I was extremely honored to earn a spot this year at Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s PBBC. It was the first time they held it at the Highlights Foundation campus, so I was able to check two items off my bucket list at once. It was definitely one of the highlights (ha!) of 2019 for me. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could from Jane, Heidi, and the other amazing authors in attendance. My favorite part was Bedtime Stories read by Jane and/or Heidi.

Talk to us about your writing and revising process! How do you know when something isn't working, and how do you go about making changes to your WIPs?

My gut tells me when something isn’t working and usually a critique partner or two will back that up. It’s good to get their validation and sometimes an idea for how to move forward if I’m stuck. When a manuscript still isn’t working, and it starts to feel like torture, I usually put it away and work on something else. Forcing it doesn’t seem to work for me.

You work closely with a critique group. How has that helped you in your writing process?

I have two separate online critique groups that have been invaluable in my writing process. Critique partners are KEY. I am an extrovert and truly need feedback from others to hone and polish my stories. (Shout out to the PB&Js and the BIC & HOP Club.) I believe it was Marcie Colleen who shared, “You only get your agent’s fresh eyes once.” That really stuck with me and I try not to send you anything in a really raw state. I appreciate that you are an editorial agent and I want to make sure to take advantage of that by not sending you a hot pile of doo doo. 

Share a few of your favorite non-writing hobbies!
In my spare time, I spend a lot of time watching my two children’s sports and musical activities and driving them around. Staying active with yoga and walking is a priority as well, and of course I still love reading! I took up ice hockey five years ago with a group of women called Chicks with Sticks. I prefer to keep all my teeth so I don’t play in a league or anything. I mostly just skate around our backyard pond with my kids.  

Kristen Schroeder was inspired to write this, her debut picture picture book, when her daughter blurted out the title one day. In addition to writing, she owns and manages her own business. Having studied and worked around the world, she now lives with her family in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

You can follow her on Twitter and visit her at her website and Facebook page!

You can pre-order ALIEN TOMATO on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and IndieBound now!

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