Julie Falatko is the author of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book), illustrated by Tim Miller (Viking Children’s Books, February 2016); The Society for Underrepresented Animals, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Viking Children’s Books, 2017); and Help Wanted: One Rooster (Viking Children’s Books, 2018). She lives with her family in Maine, where she always checks too many books out of the library.
For what age audience do you write?
I write children’s books, though I’m not sure how to say what age that’s for. I like reading picture books, and I’m not a child anymore…
Henry: Me too!
Tell us about Snappsy.
Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) is about an alligator who is having an ordinary day until the narrator of the book starts making up lies. Hilarity ensues.
Henry: I love books where the story/illustrations contradict the narration. See also Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Well, mostly I hope they laugh. If they laugh, I’m happy. I hope the fact that I just said this doesn’t lead to a string of awkward appearances where the kids are forcing laughter just to keep me happy.
Henry: Right, because elementary school kids are all reading my blog. 🙂
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I still have trouble remembering that the great idea in my head might turn into an awful idea when I write it down. And that that’s normal. I really love writing, but sometimes I want to yell at the words: “WHY AREN’T YOU AS AWESOME AS I KNOW YOU CAN BE??!!”
Henry: Darn those uncooperative ideas! Of course, if it was easy, anyone could do it. I’ve found if no inspiration follows a great title or idea, I set it aside for a while and come back to it later.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Writing is so magical. It’s amazing to me that an idea I had while making dinner is an actual book that strangers can read. It’s humbling, and a little scary. But when you’re writing you have to forget about that far-away end goal. You just have to get the idea down. As you can tell from my answer to the previous question, I still sometimes struggle with this, but writing is like anything else that requires practice. You work at it, you get better. And sometimes initial ideas and attempts at story are truly terrible, and you need to work at it to make it better.
I guess that’s a long way of saying that writing has taught me the beauty and power of creative tenacity.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
My local library has been unbelievably supportive of me and my writing. They let me put up a poster, blanket every desk with bookmarks, and plan my launch party for their space. The children’s librarian told me about this adorable 6-year-old girl who was so excited for Snappsy. She’ll hold up one of the bookmarks and say, “I can’t wait for this book!” or point at the poster and talk about how much she’s looking forward to the party. Apparently she always talks about Snappsy during her weekly visits to the library.
The library had a “Noon Year’s Eve” party on New Year’s Eve, and we decided I should read Snappsy. The librarian called the family of the cutest little superfan to let them know.
I read the book to a huge crowd of tiny rowdy revelers, but didn’t see the girl. And then I saw her later. After I’d read.
She’d missed it. She’d missed me reading this book that she was so excited for.
So I pulled her aside and sat in a corner and read it to her and her sister. They sat on either side of me and we had to put our heads close, because the room was so noisy. They laughed at all the right parts. They pointed out things they liked in the illustrations.
It was amazing.
How is it possible a stranger, a child, falls in love with a bookmark, and then I get to read to that real kid? I still don’t understand it. I’m just a normal person. I can’t dance. I am a fair-to-middling cook. I eat too much buttered toast. But I’m so lucky. What a privilege to be able to read something I wrote to a kid who wants to hear it. What a crazy thing. I’m still boggled by it. I am so grateful for this tiny kid. She’s what it’s all about. That one kid loves my book, and that’s all that matters.
Henry: All the feelz!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write often, even if what you write seems terrible (especially then). Read a lot, and figure out what makes you like a book. Take your time. Be patient. Work hard.
Henry: Yes. Write and get helpful critiques!
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions.” –William James
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” –Steve Martin
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” –Elizabeth Gilbert
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
My rituals aren’t strange, but they are consistent. I get up early. I drink coffee. I write in silence. I exercise and take the dog for a walk, which is when the words I started working on in the early morning like to get some exercise too. The words get stronger and whisper into my ear, and so I write them down (which confuses the dog, who can’t figure out why we’re stopping). And then I go back home and type those ideas in. But by then it’s 9:30 and my creative window is closing. I really work best in the very early morning hours.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to be able to read books completely just by holding them. If I wanted to. I’m sure I’d want to read books slowly too sometimes. But there are so many books to get to, and I can never read them all fast enough.
Henry: The Vulcan Mind Meld with books!
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would have Carter Higgins and Elizabeth Stevens Omlor. They are my support group and critique partners, and if you haven’t heard their names yet, you’ll know them very soon. We all have books coming out in 2017. I talk to them every day but never have them over for dinner. I would also invite Margaret Wise Brown, because you know she’d be a good time.
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: “Margaret Wise Brown (1910 – 1952) was a prolific American writer of children’s books, including the picture books Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.”
Graphix editor Steve Massesa wearing a Goodnight Moon-inspired t-shirt at San Diego ComicCon.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Well. Unicorns are nice. Dragons are pretty great. Everyone loves a good fairy. But we’ve been playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in my house lately, and there is this one D&D creature called the Rug of Smothering. It’s a rug. It smothers. And now I am in awe of rugs. I never really thought about rugs before. But apparently some of them are sentient beings who are trying to kill me.
These are my favorite kinds of characters in literature – the ones who aren’t at all what you’d expect.
Henry: Best. Response. Ever.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like camping and hiking. I like going for runs, and taking my dog for walks. I have four kids and they do all those things with me sometimes. We’re pretty outdoorsy. Though we can be indoorsy too. We play board games and eat Crunch ‘n Munch while lying on the rug. I’m pretty sure our rug is not evil. Pretty sure.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Just one more chapter.
Where can readers find your work?
In libraries and bookstores. Smothered by rugs, probably. You can also find her at juliefalatko.com and on Twitter @JulieFalatko.
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Julie!