The Backstory: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS
My guest today, Christine Van Zandt, is here to discuss the ever-serious topic of...UNDERPANTS! Christine has tackled the evolution of underwear and packaged it neatly in her forthcoming book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, releasing April 20.
Read on to learn all about her inspiration and for the opportunity to win a MS critique from this amazing creator!
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Underwear is ubiquitous yet mostly unseen. What was worn before becomes forgotten from one generation to the next. My book showcases underwear facts from the first fossilized pair until today’s styles, with information from every continent. Short (sometimes punny) text creates a fast-moving book letting kids laugh while they learn. The Reveal Wheel allows kids to select which style of underwear the character on the cover wears.
I was thrilled to be paired with the iconic illustrator Harry Briggs. His whimsical, graphic art enhances the book’s humor and also appeals to adults.
The Reveal Wheel is genius! I can only imagine how much fun kids would have changing the pair of underwear and the giggles that would follow. And that's before they even open the book. I am so excited for your book to be out and for all of the dinnertime conversations about underwear around the world!
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
Ah—the real story! It all began at our daughter’s elementary school where I had been a Book Volunteer since kindergarten. One of the jobs this included was working at the annual week-long Book Fair, helping kids, parents, and teachers select books. In June 2018, nonfiction books were prominently featured in displays. Adults excitedly pointed them out, but one kid after another stated nonfiction books were “boring” even though many wonderful nonfiction books were offered. The kids’ complaints stuck with me. What would make more kids want to read nonfiction?
Humor was already a part of my writing, so writing a funny book was a natural choice, but I needed a great topic. When my third-grader suggested underwear, I loved it and I researched what had been published on that topic. The most popular 32-page nonfiction picture book was nearly 2,700 words which seemed long for this age group.
I love every part of this. The first thing I thought when reading the synopsis was what a fun way to approach nonfiction and intrigue readers who otherwise may not seek out this genre. I know this book would be a hit in my classroom and I can picture it flying off bookfair shelves.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Once I began researching what had already been published, I noticed a need for a concise, quick-paced book that would make kids laugh while they learned.
I wrote the first draft January 2019, revised for a few months, workshopped it with my critique group in July, then revised some more.
In September 2019, I pitched this story on the #PitMad Twitter pitch event. A children’s book editor from Quarto Kids liked my pitch, so I sent her the full manuscript which led to the book contract and the book’s upcoming April 2021 publication date.
We condensed the world history of underpants into short, fast scenes. The final version of the 48-page book came in at ~1,500 words.
#PitMad for the win! Congrats on your success. Let this be motivation for all of those hopeful writers out there wondering if they should join in with pitch contests. You should!
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Everyday life inspires me. I’ll turn a story spark over in my head until I feel I can make it into something. I write about things that interest me or I’m passionate about because a book is truly a long-term investment of time. Once the manuscript’s sold, today’s authors are committed to promoting their books.
A love your thinking of a book as "a long-term investment." It is so true! All the more reason to ensure our inspiration is something that will sustain and continue to inspire us long after the initial spark.
Did you use any mentor texts while creating this book?
I research even when writing fiction. For this nonfiction book, three main mentor texts were Underwear: What We Wear Under There (2,682-word, 32-page picture book, Holiday House, 2008), The Revealing Story of Underwear (2,413-word, 64-page early reader, Usborne, 2006), and How Underwear Got Under There: A Brief History (~4,000-word, 48-page middle-grade book, Dutton, 2007).
Who knew there were so many books about underwear? I appreciate how you differentiated yours from the rest by carefully considering wordcount. That combined with your humor are sure to engage reluctant nonfiction readers.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
There are so many wonderful books, I can’t choose! I’ve always loved kid’s lit and specialized in it in college, however, becoming a parent and being immersed in a child’s world 24/7 was more impactful on my writing than anything else.
So many of our readers would 100% agree with you. Being with children, especially as a parent, provides endless inspiration. Not only do their words and actions inspire, but often they stir up our own childhood memories leading to even more ideas!
What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
As an editor, purple felt-tip pens are part of my daily world and my most-used reference materials are the online versions of the Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary and The Chicago Manual of Style.
My workspace has piles of papers and rows of files. Gathered below my screen, you’ll find a collection of small things that mean big things to me. Overhead, gleams a disco ball.
Your disco ball is amazing! What a great way to bring some fun to your workspace.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. Rejection happens; be resilient and persevere.
So simply stated, yet so true.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have finished picture book manuscripts (fiction and nonfiction) that I’m hoping to match up with the right agent or publisher.
I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find the perfect agent or publisher for your manuscripts. You clearly have so much talent and I can't wait for the opportunity to read more of your work.
Where can people connect more with you?
Christine Van Zandt
Christine thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your inspiration. It has been amazing getting to hear the story behind the story.
Readers be sure to follow Christine on social media and don't miss the April 20 release of A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Harry Briggs.
Christine is generously offering a manuscript critique of one picture book (text
only and 1,000 words or fewer) or the first 1,000 words of another project—children’s/adult, fiction/nonfiction, book/short story/etc.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
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I will be giving away a MS critique once our FB page reaches 25 likes!
ABOUT CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT
Even though Christine Van Zandt is the author of A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, she hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but she loves uncovering interesting historical facts that make great books for kids.
She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Photo credit, Marlena Van Zandt
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.