The Backstory: CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL
Katelyn Aronson joins us today to share the backstory behind her latest picture book, CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL (Page Street Kids, 2021) with illustrations by Eve Farb. Clovis hits shelves on August 17, but you can get the inside scoop on how this story came to be and earn a chance to win a copy for yourself.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Clovis the bull (and former Cloverdale Chargers linebacker), has inherited his late granny's china shop. He now takes utmost care of his porcelain wares, repeating his granny's motto, “Grace, grace. Nothing broken to replace,” hoping to keep his world in a delicate balance. But Clovis has a past, and eventually, a few old rivals come back to haunt him, reawakening his temper, and that old urge to charge…
What a fun premise. The inherent tension of a bull in a china shop along with the threat of old rivals has me so intrigued. I cannot wait to read Clovis! And Eve Farb's illustrations are exquisite. The fine details are amazing and I can't get enough of the characters' expressions.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
Besides the proverbial “bull in the china shop” expression, this story was woven together from disparate odds and ends in my life. For example, the football and tea party references are nods to my maternal grandparents, who are no longer with me.
Since I love writing character-driven narratives most, very often the image of a main character, along with their personality/problem/interests, will appear in my mind’s eye. When Clovis appeared, I immediately found him endearing. I’ve always appreciated the gentle giant archetype and the “bull in a china shop” image seemed loaded with storytelling potential.
I love all of the dimension and depth you added to Clovis, making us rethink our sterotypes. There is a powerful message in there that kids will pick up on and teachers will love to highlight in lessons.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL? 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?
Some of my stories write themselves quickly, but that wasn’t the case with Clovis. I think I struggled with the manuscript over the summer and fall of 2018. A common issue of mine is having too many ideas, too many themes going on in one manuscript, and needing to streamline. For example, my first version of Clovis was very different from today’s published version, in that it was about a bull in a china shop…who loved to dance!
Some writers work their story out in their heads prior to writing, but I have to write everything out and play around a bit before my character, and their trajectory, become clear. Storyboarding with thumbnail sketches is also a technique that works well for me in assessing the flow of my story.
Thanks to the wonderful support of my MVCP (Most Valuable Critique Partner), Jen Bagan, my original tale metamorphosed into a story about a bull struggling to control his temper. I’m glad it did, because I later found out that Page Street Kids had already acquired a book about a dancing bull! Today’s published version of Clovis still retains most of the same themes addressed in my first version: gender roles, body positivity, society’s pressure on boys to be “macho,” and the importance of grace in every sense of the word.
What a different story this could have been. The themes you are touching on are so important and the idea of a masculine bull in a dainty china shop is the perfect scenario for exploring them.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
There are 3 things that help spark new ideas for me: travels/new experiences, going on a walk/run, and simply interacting with my students.
Kidlit authors say they write for children (plural). But honestly, I think I just write for one—the child I once was and still am inside! That is the most authentic thing I can do. Hopefully, certain readers out there will experience a kind of echo in their heart/imagination when they read something from my heart/imagination. I think our authenticity is always relevant to somebody, somewhere.
Yes! You can not write to every child's experience, but kids instinctively connect to authenticity.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Instead of choosing titles, I’d love to share a quote if I may. It’s not a quote from a book, but actually 2 tweets from a Twitter thread, posted exactly 3 years ago by the brilliant Julie Falatko:
Being creative is being vulnerable, especially if you're doing a good job of it. Once you learn to crack your heart open, the work you do levels up. It's exhilarating and scary, but mostly lovely because you love what you make.
Yes, publishing is a tricky game, and some people write their whole lives and never get a book published. (Though I would argue they aren't cracking their heart open wide enough, but that's a different thread.)
Those seemingly insignificant tweets are possibly the most significant thing I’ve read about the craft of writing. I think about Julie’s words all the time.
While writing Clovis, I remember the point at which my heart cracked open for my main character. There is a scene in the book when Clovis thinks that he’s done the unthinkable. He thinks that his whole world is broken, that there’s no way back, and that it’s all his fault. Sure, it’s “just a picture book” text, and yet, writing that scene brought tears to my eyes. That’s when I knew I’d struck upon the truth of my story—the need for grace towards ourselves and others. I knew that I’d cracked my heart open enough to let that truth spill onto the page.
(All that to say: Thank you, Julie Falatko.)
Those tweets are incredibly inspirational. Vulnerability leads to authenticity. And when children experience our vulnerability through the vulnerability of our characters, they learn valuable lessons about openness and acceptance.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
For the last couple of years, I’ve been working double teaching jobs, with around 100 students to keep track of. It’s been taxing for me as an introvert, and it has shown me how vital finding a quiet space is for me. I feel that most other resources are within me, since my brain is always buzzing with ideas. It’s a question of finding the internal peace and external quiet to develop those ideas to their full potential. Maybe others can relate!
I can relate 100% and I am sure many others can as well. Quiet is the one element that allows me to sneak into the world of my imagination and take a glimpse at what my characters are doing and what they want to say.
My workspace doubles as our guest bedroom. In the far left corner is my Book Nook, for reading/writing/window-gazing. It’s also where I sit to “broadcast” virtual events and story times. Nothing fancy, but definitely my happy space. What this picture doesn’t show is a desk and two more bookcases packed with—you guessed it—picture books.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I always give the same advice: Write as much as possible.
If I look at my current statistics, I’ve produced 4 or 5 manuscripts for every one that I’ve sold. Each writer works differently, but I know that quantity leads me to quality. Writing a lot also means allowing myself to write lacklustre things, knowing they may never see the light of day, and being ok with that. It’s all just part of exercising one’s storytelling muscles. Yes, you will create lacklustre things some days. But you will create wonderful things other days! Keep plugging away and eventually, the wonderful will transpire.
Great advice! Seeing the purpose and merit of each piece is important. Not every piece can be published or needs to be, but each piece serves a purpose in the larger picture, ultimately leading to those polished, publishable manuscripts.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have a new book (or two) coming out every year from now through 2024. The next one up is POO-DUNIT ? A Forest Floor Mystery, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis and releasing from Candlewick in 2022. I hope the cover reveal happens soon, because it’s a doozy!
Congratulations on all of your success! And I will keep my eyes open for that cover reveal!
Where can people connect more with you?
I’m present across social media (FB, Twitter, Insta), an active PAL member of the SCBWI, and one of the moderators of Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge.
I also offer a pro picture book critique and custom pitch service. More info on my “P.B. Tweak” Critiques-In-A-Week is available at any of these links:
Readers be sure to connect with Kaitlyn via her social media links so you don't miss any of her forthcoming titles! And if you are anticipating the release of Clovis as much as I am, you can check out the purchase links below.
Purchase links for Clovis Keeps His Cool
Katelyn thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share all about your inspiration and process for CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL.
Katelyn is generously offering a copy of CLOVIS KEEPS HIS COOL to one lucky winner.
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!
ABOUT KATELYN ARONSON
Katelyn Aronson grew up in southern California and spent six years working in independent children’s bookstores before moving to Europe. Today she divides her time between France and Switzerland, where she teaches at the prestigious Institut Le Rosey and writes children’s books. Clovis Keeps His Cool is the third of six books she currently has in the publishing pipeline.
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 Page Turner Literary.