February 23, 2017
Today we are happy to present author Peter McCleery. Peter is the author of the picture book, BOB AND JOSS GET LOST illustrated by Vin Vogel. Be sure to enter to win a copy of BOB AND JOSS GET LOST at the end of this spotlight!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children?
Like a lot of children's authors I came to writing for kids after I had my own children. Before I had kids I had very little knowledge of any kid's books or authors. Kid lit was just not my scene. When I started I didn't even know who Mo Willems was! But then I stumbled upon amazingly clever and smart and funny books from people like Mo Willems, Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka and I was hooked.
I have a pretty diverse creative background and in some ways it was wonderful training for writing picture books. I studied architecture at Rhode Island School of Design. Then I got a Masters in Fine Art from the San Francisco Art Institute and was a conceptual/installation artist for a bit. After that I worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency.
Years of thinking conceptually and creatively. Years of critiquing and being critiqued. Learning how to brainstorm and develop ideas. All of it was great creative training.
Congrats on your book, BOB AND JOSS GET LOST. What inspired this story?
This one was one of those ideas that is like a gift. I woke up one morning and it just came to me. I sat down and wrote pages of silly, absurd dialogue between these two very different friends. It was like I was channeling Abbott and Costello or Hope and Crosby. And for no particular reason, they were shipwrecked. I still don't know where it came from. It just made sense in my head. It was random and weird and made me laugh. Massaging it into a coherent story came later.
You are an artist, but you didn’t illustrate this story. Was that difficult for you to see someone else bring your story to life?
No, it wasn't all that difficult since my art background is more sculpture and conceptual art. If I had known I was going to end up creating children's books, I would have majored in Illustration! Oh well.
I have an amazing amount of respect for author/illustrators because they have to master two different art forms. It's incredible if you think about it. It's like those sports guys who can play professional football AND baseball. Actually it's more like someone who can play football and play in the symphony.
Was your journey to publication long and torturous, short and sweet, or something else?
I'd say my journey was somewhere in the middle. It wasn't quick but I never felt like it was dragging on and on. I had my fair share of rejections and frustrations, that's for sure. But I also got enough "breadcrumbs" (those little bits of encouragement you get along the way) to keep me going. And I kept trying to get better and better. I tried to focus on improving my craft and learning how to write picture books.
My appproach was "put my head down and write, the rest will take care of itself." Ironically, Bob and Joss was one of the first stories I wrote but I shelved it for years while I worked on other picture books. Eventually I decided to start sending it out and I connected with my agent over that manuscript.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a bunch of picture books I'm working on that I'm excited about. I'm also working on a middle-grade novel. I feel like I'm just now starting to understand what it is that I want to do as a creator of children's books. I'm finding my voice and it's very exciting.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? The easiest?
No question that the hardest part of writing for me is getting my butt in the chair and actually writing. I like to say, "Life is very time-consuming." If they gave out awards for procrastination I'd win the Lamest Excuses Award. Oh, there's laundry to do? I'm on it. Errands to run? All me. Facebook? I'm there. It's a constant struggle to stay focused.
The easiest part (not that any of it is easy) for me is probably getting the first draft down. I usually let ideas simmer in my head and then once they are ready it comes pouring out fairly quickly.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Be bold and confident. Take chances. Especially in the early drafts. Write the thing YOU want to write and own it. Get those second-guessing voices out of your head. Because, don't you worry, they will have a lot to say later on in the process.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
People are usually surprised to learn that I studied architecture. No part of my current life would lead one to believe that I ever did that. Especially since it was quite a few years ago and I never practiced. Sometimes I don't even believe it myself!
Where can people find you online?
Check out my website www.petermccleery.com.
or on twitter: @pmccleery
or facebook: https://www.facebook.com/petermccleeryauthor/
Peter McCleery is the author of the hilarious Bob and Joss series of children's books: BOB AND JOSS GET LOST! and BOB AND JOSS TAKE A HIKE (coming in 2018). He lives and works and occasionally gets lost in Portland, Oregon. One of his favorite things is kids who laugh. He’s also written for Highlights magazine and for grown-ups on the McSweeney’s humor website. You can find him at www.petermccleery.com and on Twitter @pmccleery