Today we welcome picture book author Ariel Bernstein! She recently signed a contract for her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON, from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, coming out Fall 2017.
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
It’s probably cliché but I began to think of story ideas while reading picture books to my children. I had no idea how to write an actual picture book though. I wrote the wonderful Ame Dyckman an email about how much my son loved her BOY + BOT book and at the end asked if she had any advice for an aspiring picture book writer. She wrote back a really nice email and recommended I join SCBWI. So of course I joined SCBWI and found helpful websites like this one to learn from. I learned all about pacing, ‘showing’ vs. ‘telling,’ the importance of word count and much more.
Congrats! The world recently learned about your contract for your debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON. Tell us about the story and its inspiration.
Thank you! I really owe a lot to SCBWI because I thought of the idea at their 2015 New York conference during Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s presentation. She was talking about her book, GREEN, and I started thinking about colors and settled on the color red. I immediately thought of a red balloon. For some reason I thought of a frog holding the balloon. Probably because I have two young children, I figured there’d be another frog nearby who would really, really want to hold the balloon too.
Soon after I wrote the first draft, I saw a ton of people on Twitter posting about Dev Petty’s I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG book. I panicked and thought, I can’t have a frog book too! So I went into my kid’s rooms and looked at their stuffed animals and found an owl and monkey. They seemed like they’d go together pretty well for a story and I think it worked out for the best.
Has your journey to being contracted been long and arduous, short and fortuitous, or somewhere in between? Do you have an agent?
My journey with solely writing picture books has been relatively short. I started about a year ago and signed with my agent Mary Cummings last April. She submitted my story and after about four months we accepted the offer from Sylvie Frank at Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books. I feel incredibly lucky that Scott Magoon signed on to illustrate the book soon after.
Another perspective is that I’ve been writing on and off since I was in school two decades ago. I’ve written short stories, blog posts and even finished a novel. I feel all of that helped inform my writing skills for picture books.
What is the hardest part about writing?
The hardest part is when I’ve worked a lot on a manuscript and come to the conclusion it doesn’t have potential. It doesn’t mean the writing was a waste of time, but it’s still sad to put the story away and then feel good enough to try again.
What is the easiest part?
Writing dialogue. It’s my favorite part of writing and many of my stories are told only in dialogue.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on other picture book manuscripts as well as a chapter book series.
What advice would you give other aspiring authors?
I feel that finding good critique partners is one of the best things about being a writer. It’s a free way to strengthen your writing skills as well as give back when you write a critique.
The other piece of advice I’ve heard a lot and has been very helpful is to always be working on something when you have a piece on submission – whether to an agent or editor. It’s a great distraction from the waiting and it also gives you hope that if what’s on submission doesn’t work out, maybe the current project will.
What is something most people don't know about you?
When I was in sixth grade I was an extra in the movie Dead Poets Society. In the movie, during the play of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, I played one of the fairies.
Very cool. Next time that movie comes on, we'll be sure to try to spot you! Where can we find you online?
Ariel Bernstein is a picture book, chapter book and short story writer. She has been published in Scary Mommy and Atticus Review. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON, will be published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books in Fall 2017 and will be illustrated by Scott Magoon. Ariel is a member of SCBWI in New Jersey.