Jena Benton - Writer and Illustrator

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Simply 7 interview with Diana Murray

Posted by Jena Benton on July 12, 2016 at 7:05 PM

It's time for another exciting Simply 7 interview with a picture book author.  This time Diana Murray has kindly agreed to answer some questions.  Her first picture book, "City Shapes," just came out in June.  She has 2 more books coming out this summer (one in July and one in August), as well as one next year.


Diana is a writer of children's books and award winning poetry.  She moved to the US from the Ukraine when she was only 2 and has lived most of her life in New York.  You can learn more about her on her website here: http://www.dianamurray.com/


Me: What draws you to writing picture books?


Diana: There are many reasons I adore picture books as a genre. I like the blend of art and words. The way the words and the pictures each tell part of the story. I also love how picture books are typically a shared experience. And finally, I love kids! They're so full of imagination and wonder. So it's particularly fun to write with kids in mind. And technically speaking, I like the challenge of writing a complete story in so few words. It's harder than it looks.


Me: Since your book “City Shapes” is about exploring a city, what is your favorite city? Was that the city you envisioned as the setting for the book?


Diana: I grew up in New York so I did write with that in mind. But the publisher wanted to keep the illustrations and descriptions somewhat neutral--not just NYC-specific. I think that was a good way to go. I wouldn't say New York is my favorite city, but I will always think of it as home, so that makes it special. I also love Anchorage, Barcelona, Paris, Palma de Mallorca, Montreal, and lots of other cities.


Me: You have three books coming out this summer (1 every month). Did you sell all three stories at the same time? Do they all rhyme? If yes, do you feel boxed into writing or selling only picture book stories that rhyme now?


Diana: Yes, they all rhyme. It would be fine for me to write something in prose but my rhyming stories typically turn out better. Probably because I enjoy writing them more. NED THE KNITTING PIRATE and GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH sold simultaneously to different publishers. But both releases were pushed back by several years. Meanwhile, we sold CITY SHAPES. Even though it sold later, it came out first because there were no delays.


Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing “City Shapes”?


Diana: After the manuscript was accepted, the editor sent me a bunch of notes for revisions. She wanted me to add more shapes. I really didn't see how it would be possible at first, but finally, I managed to incorporate "diamonds" and "stars" as additional shapes. With revisions, it's always surprising when something seems so difficult at the start, but then you figure out a way to pull it off.


Me: The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous. Did you have any say in them? Did you give Bryan Collier any illustration notes? Did you specify the choice of the city?


Diana: I did use some illustration suggestions, simply to make sure that my text was clear. For example, I labeled the different neighborhoods ("midtown skyscrapers", "downtown brownstones", etc.). Other than that, after I saw the illustrations, my editor and I did have some notes in terms of how the text and illustrations related. But in terms of the overall vision? That was all Bryan. And seeing the illustrations was definitely the biggest surprise for me. Bryan added things that never occurred to me. And I agree that the illustrations are gorgeous! Me: Any advice or insight for other picture book writers? Diana: Finding some good critique partners or a good critique group is key. Not only do you get valuable feedback, but you hone your own revision skills. It's also important not to be discouraged by rejections. Just keep working on your craft and keep plowing forward.


Me: Anchorage, Alaska (where I live) is my favorite city. I know you’ve traveled up here before. On a trip to Alaska, you said you discovered that hat hair can be stylish. Is that because you wore hats constantly? Or because you became a fan of hairy hats?


Diana: Ha ha! I went in November (back in the 90's) so it was pretty cold and I was always wearing a hat. When I went inside and took it off--voila!--hat hair. But I had a short, shag haircut at the time, and it looked particularly good when tousled. :)


LOL!  I wish I could say the same.  Unfortunately, I avoid hats, even in winter up here.  Thank you for joining us today Diana!  Run out and get a copy of it today you guys.  You won't regret it.  It's full of gorgeous details and reminds readers to give the world around them another look.  Check out the one illustration below to get an idea of what I mean.  GORGEOUS!


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