By Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison
Lynn Becker is the author of Monsters in the Briny, illustrated by Scott Brundage (Sleeping Bear Press, April 2022). What do you do with a grumpy kraken, a sickly sea serpent, and a tearful gigantic tortoise? You sing them a tune! The verse in this debut picture book follows the sea shanty rhyme of “What Do You Do With . . . ,” as the ship’s crew face each creature’s demand for comfort or attention.
Lynn Becker, former resident and volunteer member of the SCBWI Central-California Region, now lives and writes in Colorado. She took a moment to answer some questions for Kite Tales.
ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Congratulations on your debut picture book Monsters in the Briny, illustrated by Scott Brundage (Sleeping Bear Press, April 2022). What was the inspiration for writing about sea creatures?
LYNN BECKER: Ann, thanks so much for speaking with me! Back when I wrote Monsters in the Briny, I already had a handful of what felt like strong manuscripts to query with. While throwing myself into the very humbling experience of sending them out, I decided to write something fun, specifically for me and my childhood self. This turned into a collection of poems about various mythical monsters, and I really, really enjoyed researching the beasties and playing with all the different poetic forms. When I wrote a short sea shanty about a kraken and took it to my critique group, they laughed so hard that we all—separately—came up with the idea that I should turn this short song into a full-length picture book. Best idea EVER! And I do think that trying to write something specifically for myself is what made this manuscript unique and helped it stand out.
ARS: Great picture books provide a perfect blend of words and art. Does your past work in animation help in your process of creating picture books?
LB: I think visually, and certainly my animation work helped me to develop the skill. For a (very) long time, I thought I’d both write and illustrate, and my earlier picture book dummies felt a lot like animation storyboards. But somewhere along the line, I lost my way with the art, while my writing continued to get stronger. I finally realized that while I was writing every day and loving it, I only worked on illustrations when I had to, and that was a turning point for me. But the animation has allowed me to get a good feel for what can be left to the illustrator, which in turn allows me to write fairly spare texts. I have to say that when I saw the illustrations Scott came up with, I was blown away—they’re better than anything I could have imagined!
ARS: The back matter of your book includes information about the sea creatures featured in the story. That’s a nice addition. Whose idea was that?
LB: The back matter was always part of the fun. Monsters in the Briny sprang from a manuscript describing a collection of fairly unusual monsters, so it seemed only fitting to include descriptions of the creatures at the end of this picture book. I submitted the story this way to Lori, and my fabulous editor at Sleeping Bear was very happy to include it. Hopefully, I managed to introduce the beasties in an entertaining way to audiences that might be less familiar with them. (I also included sheet music, since this is a song, after all, and was delighted when my editor left that in as well!)
ARS: How did you find your agent, Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary?
LB: First of all, I worked long and hard on crafting the best manuscripts I could, so when the right opportunity came along, I would be ready.
Second, I finally learned how to approach querying as a puzzle, so it was more of an impersonal problem to be solved, rather than a reason to feel deeply “rejected” each time an agent or editor decided to pass. It wasn’t easy, but the subtle shift in the way I looked at the process really helped me.
After that, I absolutely credit Twitter with my finding Lori, the right agent at just the right time. I wasn’t on Twitter much—at all?—until my critique partner, Karen Jameson, challenged me to spend even a small amount of time there, as children’s book agents, editors, and creators are very active on Twitter. It wasn’t long before I found myself learning craft and business tips, or finding an inspiring bit of artwork, or any one of a number of small things that sparked me. And I happened to catch a tweet that Lori was starting to agent, and opening to queries. Her wish list at the time felt like a great fit for what I was writing, and in an incredibly short time, I signed on with her and Raven Quill. A new agent and agency, but I did my research and it was very much the right choice for me. And then we sold two books! I still don’t spend a ton of time on social media, but I like to make sure to check in at least every few days.
ARS: You have another picture book coming out in the spring of 2023, June Moon, illustrated by Nate Carvalho (Familius). This story also won Special Mention in last year’s CenCal Writers’ Day contest. Can you tell us anything else about this book?
LB: June Moon is going to be a board book! The publicity blurb describes it as capturing “a languid summer evening as child and moon reluctantly prepare for sleep,” and it came about when I was walking a neighbor’s dog every night for a month. I’d look up at the moon, and watch how the clouds might “interact” with it, and the rhyming text started running through my mind. I spent a lot of time figuring out the intent of the story, and then walking through the rhythm and word choices—during the day, without the dog. I hope to publish other kinds of picture books, but rhythm and rhyme are so much fun! Winning the contest made me feel more confident about sending this story out on submission.
Thank you, Lynn, for all your thoughtful responses!
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Images provided by author.