I'm delighted today to welcome Stacy Nyikos to the blog. Her newest picture book, Toby, is a delight, with a sweet story and charming illustrations. Stacy and I overlapped at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and during our shared workshop I was impressed by her talent and insights.
First a bit about Toby: "Birds, and crabs, and crocs - oh my! Can Toby outslip, outslide, out-double flip and dive them? Join this curious little sea turtle as he follows his heartsong from egg to ocean."
Hi Stacy! So great to have you here. What inspired you to write about sea turtles?
That’s easy. Countless, very excited, energetic young readers! I do a lot of author signings at aquariums, and the number one question I get from children is, "Will you write a story about a turtle?" This went on for almost five years, but I never had a story idea. Then one day, I was coming home from an aquarium signing, and I think all of that collective energy from those eager readers finally hatched its own idea and Toby was born. I didn’t even make it home. I had to pull over and write the story down. It was awesome.
Toby is not your first publication. How did you get your start?
Sea animals gave me my start. My girls were in the aquarium/zoo stage. We visited A LOT of them. The giftshop was, of course, one of the most exciting exhibits. The girls were repeatedly drawn to the plush animals, toys, rocks. I searched and searched for a couple of books to take home, something that would last longer than a week. It was a hard search. I finally decided to try to do something about it and started writing books featuring sea animals. I’ve since moved on to dragons, fantastical worlds, and dogs, but sea animals will always be closest to my heart. They inspired me to write for children.
I know you've written both picture books and longer work. Do you have a preference?
I don’t. I don’t have that much control! The story decides what kind of form it’s going to take. I’m just along for the ride. As fate would have it, it’s usually when I’m months into a longer novel that a rush of picture book ideas comes to me. I’ll take a day – sometimes a week – off from the novel to get the ideas down and hash out a few rough drafts, before getting back to the novel. The break usually gives me a second (or sixteenth) wind for the novel, which moves along faster again. It’s as if I need that break from the marathon of a novel for a few picture books sprints to finish any of it.
We were together at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA rocks!) How did that experience change you as a writer?
Vermont College helped me understand how better to wield the tools in my writer’s toolbox. It also trained me to write more consciously, to direct my story a little more effectively. I have to turn off the conscious writer sometimes to let my characters play, but I enjoy being a little more clued into what I’m doing now. I like to think it makes me more even-keeled, but the secret drawer of chocolate in my office still needs a lot of refilling.
Would you share your writing process? In particular, how do you write a rhyming picture book like Toby?
Oh man, sharing my writing process is like voluntarily showing my messy closet to my mom because my process is REALLY messy. I’m not much of a plotter. I like to let a story develop, to experience it – at least the first draft – the way my readers will. That’s half the fun of writing for me. But it’s really messy. My characters like to take off and do their own thing, leaving me hanging high and dry. I spend a lot of time herding them back, or following them if they just won’t come. Mondays are generally pretty cranky days because they do not want to get back on my storyline. The other days aren’t much better. I wake up thinking about plot lines, forget where I’m driving because a character will suddenly appear in the seat next to me and start chatting. Story dogs me even when I don’t want it to, and I never have a pen when I should, which makes my whole writing process messy, messy messy (but secretly, A LOT of fun :) ).
What's coming up next for you?
I’m in the early stage of marketing for another picture book release in November, Waggers, which is about a newly adopted puppy who tries to be good – he tries really hard! – but his tail gets in the way. Writing-wise, I’m working on a picture book about a family of singers who can’t actually sing, The Four Tenners. I’m also working on a YA novel, Skin Deep, a retelling of Moses in a Blade Runner setting. I started it at Vermont College and am now revising. And finally, I’m laying the groundwork for a new YA, Legacy, about a high school senior whose parents are all over her to take the college, job, career fast track and her grandfather who helps her find a her path.
Find out more about Stacy at http://www.stacyanyikos.com/