Today's guest, Corey Finkle, may have been one of the first people in this amazingly generous kidlit community to extend kindness my way. I am so glad that today I am able to repay that kindness, by helping spread the word about Corey's debut picture book, YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT, releasing on 4/13.
Keep reading to learn how this story came to be and for a chance to win a PB MS and Twitter pitch critique from Corey.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
This actually might be the hardest question to answer! :) In all my other books, I tend to pride myself on having pretty involved plots. I like to PACK my 600 words with a LOT of story. But in the case of Your Future is Bright, it’s much less of a traditional narrative, and more of an “ode to childhood and the possibilities of tomorrow.” YFiB follows a group of unnamed kids as the narrator takes stock of everything that makes each of them special, and then speculates what these traits might mean for who they’ll one day become, while still recognizing that it’s all guesswork, and we won’t know until it happens.
I love the concept for this book and how it looks at each child's abilities with a hopeful eye for what it could mean for their future. This sends such a positive message to kids.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
There’s two answers to this question: The very first initial idea kernel actually came from my publisher. My agent (Sean McCarthy of McCarthy Lit) had submitted several of my books to Henry Holt before, and while they liked the manuscripts, they hadn’t bought anything. One day, after another “champagne rejection,” the publisher told Sean that for years, he’d been hoping someone would submit a modern, more inclusive version of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and since he liked the way I wrote verse, he asked if I’d be willing to have a go at it. So, a major publisher asked me to take a stab at re-imagining Seuss. No pressure, right? :)
I thought about this for a long time, and ultimately thought there was something in not just telling kids how great their future would be, but in maybe showing them how and why they should believe it.
That is incredible that they sought you out and what a wonderful challenge to be given. I think the "how" and "why" that you include are important. They give credibility to the message and are more persuasive to the reader.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT? 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?
In this case, I started with the request from the publisher, and my desire to show, not just tell. From there, I marinated for a while, thinking about it whenever I had a spare moment, for a few weeks.
I remember I was driving home from work one day when the initial story idea came to me: I remember being sort of scared when I was a kid and adults talked about my future. After all, it was going to include lots of hard work, right? What if I wasn’t up to it? However, if you think about how much growth and development babies go through to get to the point of just being a kid, the transition to adulthood is nothing! So my first draft tried to soothe kids who might be nervous about the future, by assuring them of how far they’d already come. (I remember one line was: “When you were a baby, you couldn’t do squat, except cry and poop (and you did those a LOT.”
My agent pretty much rejected this version out of hand, with the thought that while it was an interesting idea to look backward and then jump to the present, a book like this would be more effective to start at the present, and look toward the future. Combining this idea with my initial concept is what got me to where YFiB is today.
I do love your initial line but understand the change. Thanks for sharing how the book transformed from your first concept to what it is now. It is so interesting seeing the evolution of this idea.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I get my ideas from everywhere, every day! Anyone who has gone through Tara Lazar’s Storystorm process would agree, I’d wager. :) Certainly, I generate ideas with/from my kids all the time, but also sometimes a fun play on words might lead me to a title, which will spark an entire idea in my head. Basically, I know an idea might work if I can see an arc, and at least guess at an ending.
Yes, ideas are everywhere! I like your method of evaluating the merit of an idea. That is a great way to filter through those lengthy Storystorm notebooks and help decide which topic to tackle next.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
When it comes to rhyming, I am inspired by Dr. Seuss (obviously), Julia Donaldson, and Corey Rosen Schwartz. My philosophy with writing in rhyme is that the reader should be able to almost sing the words after reading the first few lines, and that only comes with extreme discipline with both your rhyme and your meter. I first really noticed this phenomenon while reading Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee, and only later did I see that same skill put to use in picture books. These three authors do it masterfully.
When it comes to humor, I tip my hat to Josh Funk, Adam Rubin, and Bob Shea. Basically, if you can surprise the reader and make them laugh within 600 words and 32 pages, you have done something special, and that is always my goal.
Finally, while this isn’t exactly a picture book, I am forever and ever inspired by Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. The wordplay in that book is transcendentally brilliant, and everything I write will always strive in some way (and fail) to reach those heights.
What a stellar list of authors! I bet many of our readers are inspired by some of the same.
What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I have two websites I have open at all times when I’m writing in verse: www.rhymezone.com, and www.thesaurus.com . It would be lovely to imagine that lines of verse just spring fully formed from your mind, but the truth is anything but. They need to be constructed, and worked, and re-worked again and again. The only way to do that, I’ve found, is with a handy resource for finding new ways to express a thought, and another resource to help me think of ways to make that new way rhyme.
Both great resources for finding that just-right word. I give all of you rhymers out there so much credit for the work you do to produce the perfect rhythm and rhymes.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
A few things:
Keep writing - I was SO PROUD of my earliest books, but I find them unreadable now. Every book you write helps you learn more and more about how to write books. Also, agents almost never rep a book; they want to rep an author, so when an agent is interested in a manuscript, they want to see more. So have more to show them!
Seek out (the right kind of) criticism: It’s impossible to write in a vacuum, and getting feedback from friends and loved ones - especially if they don’t know the field, is often very unhelpful, even if it strokes your ego. Instead, you need to find a critique group of peers who can offer honest (which is not the same thing as “mean”) feedback, to help your manuscript, and your work, grow and evolve.
Plan for your lucky break - Here’s the honest truth: every single writer or artist you love had a lucky break at some point. Someday, you’ll get one too. This can mean meeting the right person at an event, or it could mean getting a manuscript into the best hands at the best time, or any of a thousand other scenarios. That moment is lucky; what comes next is anything but. Work hard at your craft, so when that lucky break comes, you can pounce on it, with a body of work and a stable of skills to show.
I love all of your advice but the third point, in particular, resonates with me! Continuing to write and having a support system are a must, but that bit of luck, that opportunity seems very often to be the last piece of the equation. I know it was true for me and for many of my writing friends. It's not just about waiting for that lucky break though but being ready for it.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I recently sold my second book! It’s called Pop’s Perfect Present, and it’s about a girl looking to find the perfect gift for her dad, only to discover that the time she spent with him in pursuit of this goal was the perfect gift all along. It’ll probably come out in 2022 or 2023.
That's amazing! Congrats on what sounds like a sweet, heartfelt book. I am looking forward to it.
Where can people connect more with you?
My author website: www.coreyfinkle.com will have news, notes, games, blogs, and videos
I have to mention the song on your website. How amazing that Guster recorded a song for your book. As a fan myself, I can imagine what an experience that must have been for you. Readers be sure to check out Corey's website to see all he has to offer and to give a listen to Your Future Is Bright, featuring Guster.
Huge thanks to Corey Finkle for joining us today. Be sure to check out the positive, uplifting, YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT, releasing 4/13. And if you are interested, Barrington Books is hosting a virtual book launch on 4/14 at 7:00. Find out more, here.
Corey is generously offering a PB MS critique as well as a Twitter pitch critique.
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 COREY FINKLE
I wrote my first children’s book as a senior project in college. From there I spent ten years tinkering with and pitching it, and finally put it aside after I realized it wasn’t actually very good at all. I sold my first book, Your Future is Bright, almost 20 years to the day after completing that senior project. Between those two decades were a lot of manuscripts, and a LOT of revisions. When not working on my next book, I spend my time writing business-y words for companies, spending time with my wife and two kids, or collecting t-shirts from unusual or lesser-known sports teams.
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.