Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blog tour for Signed, Abiah Rose: Interview with Abigail Samoun - Project Editor, Tricycle Press

I'm delighted to host day two of the blog tour for my good friend, the wonderfully talented writer and illustrator, Diane Browning. Her debut picture book, Signed, Abiah Rose - released June 8th - already has been greeted with great critical acclaim. Booklist gave it a starred review, naming it one of the, “Top 10 Historical Titles for Youth 2010.”
A work of historical fiction set in the 1800s, Signed, Abiah Rose is the story of a young American girl who finds a graceful way to pursue her artistic goals. Diane included a dummy for the book as part of her submission for the 2008 SCBWI Summer Conference Portfolio Display - and someone noticed.
That someone was Abigail Samoun, project editor with Tricycle Press, the children's book imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House – which ended up acquiring Signed, Abiah Rose. For day 2 of Diane’s blog tour, I am interviewing her editor, Abigail Samoun. Born in France, Abigail moved to the US at the age of seven. After earning an MA in French Studies and Journalism from New York University, Abigail joined Tricycle Press in 2001.
It's a pleasure to participate in the launch of Signed, Abiah Rose, and to have the opportunity to interview Abigail Samoun, project editor with Tricycle Press:

I understand you first discovered Diane Browning's picture book dummy of, Signed Abiah Rose, at an SCBWI conference portfolio display. Coupled with Browning's charming illustrations, the story is a vignette of historical fiction about a young female artist who finds a way to leave her unique imprint. Told in the first person voice of Abiah Rose, the narrative has a subtle feminist theme. What resonated with you about this book and why did you decide you wanted to acquire it?
A.S. A lot of wonderful art comes across my desk but it’s unusual to find an illustrator who truly understands and embraces the picture book form---working within the parameters of 32 pages, a certain trim size, the flat, two-dimensional space of the page. The form has its limits and authors and illustrators have to understand those limits and know how to work creatively with them. When I saw Diane’s sketch dummy, I saw an artist who knew how to interweave text and art, how to create a visual rhythm and vary layout. A lot of care had gone not only into the illustrations, but also into the way those illustrations occupied the page, into the way the text was placed within those illustrations and text and illustration flowed over the course of 32 pages. The visual language Diane was using so adeptly came straight out of the world of classic picture books. I knew that this artist was someone who had studied picture books closely and had a real appreciation for the form.
The voice in Abiah Rose is very distinctive. To me, it evokes nineteenth century America---the age of Emily Dickinson, the Transcendentalists---a time when America was creating its own literature, rather than borrowing from the British. The trick with this type of text is to evoke the age without making the language overly exotic for young readers. Few six-year-olds would understand authentic nineteenth century writing. It was a careful balance but Diane pulled it off beautifully.

Historical fiction for children may have more marketing opportunities than other fictional children's books. Presumably, libraries and schools will be particularly interested in the book because it deals with history and art, and has educational value. If so, to what extent do you factor this in when considering a book for acquisition?

A.S. We definitely consider the markets the book will sell into. Library sales are crucial for a book like this. The fact that the book also dealt with art opened up some opportunities for special sales to museums and gift shops. These days, we look for picture books that will sell in multiple markets---not just to the chains or independents. Those venues are just too unpredictable.

Signed, Abiah Rose received a starred review from Booklist. Having found, edited and art directed this book, which was designed by Katy Brown, you must find it gratifying to see how well it has been received. As project editor for Tricycle Press, you both art direct and edit. It must be challenging and fulfilling to bring the written and visual narratives together. What keeps you engaged in your role as editor? What surprises you, enthralls you about your work?

A.S. Ah, that’s a complicated question! I find many things gratifying about my role as an editor---working with creative people to make their stories and illustrations the best they can be, working with narrative and text, giving talented artists an opportunity to bring their art into the world. I love being able to work with an author and illustrator over the course of many projects---really seeing them grow and develop as an artist and being on that road with them. One thing that fascinates me endlessly is how unique each artist’s voice is---it’s like a fingerprint: no two are the same. This is true of both an author’s narrative voice and an illustrator’s visual style.

I studied art in France and have a journalism background, so I was especially intrigued to learn you were born in France, and did your graduate degree in French and journalism at NYU. To what extent do you think your background has influenced your sensibilities as an art director and children's book editor? How, if at all, does your journalism education inform your work as an editor?

A.S. Growing up in two cultures, I always felt I was a bit of an outsider---especially after I came to the States from France when I was seven. I didn’t consider myself wholly American, but when I went back to France I was “la petite americaine” (the little American)---soon France didn’t feel like home either. I think when you grow up divided like that, you often find a home in books---books are the ultimate experience of the outsider looking in. The writer and the reader have that in common: they’re both hovering above the story, looking through a window at the characters and action of the story.

The thing I loved most about Journalism was interviewing. When you interview a subject for a story, you have to listen actively to what they’re saying so you can ask good follow-up questions, and listen too to what they’re NOT saying. An editor’s relationship to a text is a bit like that: You have to be an active reader so you can know the right questions to ask, and you have to be aware of the gaps---what’s missing in a story. Being an active listener and reader is crucial to the work of both the journalist and the editor.

There's more to having a successful children's book than just being a good writer and illustrator - especially today. What else does it take? Can you offer some advice from the editor's seat?

A.S. Here in the U.S., we have a wonderful community of children’s book professionals. It’s a huge help to authors and illustrators to become active members of this community---to speak at conferences, give workshops, form critique groups. It’s helpful in terms of marketing yourself, yes, but it’s also helpful in terms of emotional support. Artists don’t receive a lot of support from the greater society. Art is not a quantitative thing---you can’t measure it and say, “oh, art was up three points yesterday.”

So, to borrow an astrologer friend’s term, our solar-minded society doesn’t give much heed to the arts. It’s up to us to support each other---to be champions for each other. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. Artists are often more comfortable locked away in their studios or offices. But getting out there and meeting other writers and illustrators can be invigorating---these are people that are also passionate about books and art. I’ve gone to many, many SCBWI conferences at this point and I always come away from them with renewed enthusiasm for the work I do. The children’s book world attracts some pretty cool people. There’s always something to learn from your fellow artists.
Thank you so much, Abigail, for sharing such interesting and valuable insights.
Please drop by Diane’s blog, Out of the Paintbox, to learn more about Diane, her book and the tour. Leave a comment there, here, or on any of the blogs on the tour this week, and you’ll be entered in a draw for a personalized autographed copy of, Signed, Abiah Rose.
Congratulations Diane, and best of luck with your lovely new book!


Joan Charles said...

Thanks for the interesting and insightful interview, Megan. It's always so helpful for aspiring writers/illustrators to learn firsthand what an editor looks for when reviewing a picture book dummy. And congratulations to Diane on her lovely book!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wonderful interview. I enjoyed learning about Diane, her book and her editor. It was particularly inspiring to find out how the book found its publisher.

Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, and Recipes said...

Thank you for the interview with Abigail. It was interesting to read about picture books from more of the illustration angle. Diane's book is beautiful!

Cindy Whitlock said...

Great interview Megan. Loved hearing the details of what quite Abigail's interest regarding Diane's book dummy.

Joan said...

Hooray, Diane! You are off and running, "starred," and touring with your exquisite book! I'm happy and excited for you and wish you continuing success. Megan and Abigail, thank you for this thoughtful, informative, charming interview. Abigail, I'm glad you gave this talented, lovely artist, and writer, an opportunity to bring her "art into this world" for all of us to enjoy.

Julie Musil said...

That was a great interview. It was nice seeing the business from the editor and art director's point of view.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Thanks for commenting, everyone. I very much enjoyed reading Abigail's thoughtful responses to my questions too. I've just received her photo - now it's added to the post as well!

Carolyn Le said...

Thank you for a wonderful interview. I enjoyed reading about Abigail's views on what she looks for in a picture book. Her love for the genre and excitement for Abiah Rose really shines through.

Barbara Jean Hicks said...

Great interview--very thoughtful, both the questions and the answers. I look forward to reading (and viewing!) Signed, Abiah Rose.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview and a fresh look at an editor's fun/work. It's such a delight to learn of other's success and triumphant over self to let the light shine through. Blessings, Maralee

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview and a fresh look at an editor's fun/work. It's such a delight to learn of other's success and triumphant over self to let the light shine through. Blessings, Maralee

Marci Hersel said...

Thank you for the great interview!
Congratulations and thanks to Diane for creating such an amazing book!

Diane Browning said...

A wonderful editor interview! I know I enjoyed it -- as I enjoyed working with Abigail! Thank you all for the lovely comments about Abiah, and for coming 'on the road' for the tour.....

Louise said...

Thanks Megan, for a great interview. What lovely things Abigail said about your ability to interweave writing with illustration, Diane. Good for you (-: I can't wait to get my hands on 'Signed Abiah Rose'. It's a beautiful book. Looking forward to the rest of the tour!
Megan, I love your 'Giraffe on a Moonlit Savannah'.

Rita said...

Wonderful interview! So inspiring on so many levels. I loved hearing how Diane's talent came shining through in the Portfolio Display, and I also enjoyed Abigail Samoun's insights on how growing up bicultural leads us to find a home in books.

Brava, everyone!

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Great to get all the wonderful feedback. It was such a pleasure to interview Abigail Samoun and host a day of Diane's blog tour. I'm glad you like my painting, Louise - thank you!

Laura said...

Hi Megan,

Thank you for this interview that uncovers more of the publishing process.

Laura Evans
all things poetry

Dana Carey said...

I really enjoyed reading that, Megan. A very thoughtful, complete interview; your journalism background is showing through! Now I'm going to go check out some of your links. Thanks.

Kathie StroScho said...

Thanks so much for a great interview. Every bit of info we writer's can get is incredibly helpful, especially when it comes from Abigail, someone I truly respect in this business. Congrats to all involved with the book. It's amazing!

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Thanks for commenting, Kathie. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview.