Here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to you for your debut picture book. Thanks for being here today, Justin!
Title: Monster Hunter
Author: Justin LaRocca Hansen
Illustrator: Justin LaRocca Hansen
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Release date: October 2012
Word count: 560
Billy is a monster hunter. That’s because his home is infested with slimy, hairy, creeping, slithering, garbage-eating monsters! One week, Billy does battle with the monsters—in his bedroom, in the bathroom, even in the kitchen. But the problem is that monster hunting is a messy operation, and Billy’s mom isn’t so thrilled about all the messes she continues to find, whether it is water covering the floor, clothes thrown on the furniture, or food strewn about in the kitchen. So, when the hunting goes too far for Mom, Billy learns that monster hunting can—and must—be done with the proper tools. A vacuum or a rag with soapy water does wonders in defeating and cleaning up after a particularly troublesome Mud-Grass monster. With Billy’s new monster-hunting techniques, he and Mom come to an agreement, and Halloween (and the house) is never the same again!
Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you.
Very hard to pick only three but let’s go with Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, Tuesday by David Weisner and because I love a good tear jerker, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
Question TWO: Despite not having any children of your own, how do you feel that you were drawn to write for them?
As a child I was always in love with stories, not just books and movies but people’s stories as well. Friends and family, I loved hearing people’s adventures and I loved sharing mine. When you’re young stories are fresh and new and leave a lasting touch. I still remember how I felt when ET lit his finger and said ouch, I remember the shock of Luke finding out about his father, the horror of Peter Pan when he finds Wendy has grown up, and the terror when Heckedy Peg is about to eat the mother’s children. When we get older we get more critical, we’ve seen and experienced so much, we don’t FEEL those moments as often or as much as we used to. I like the idea of telling stories that completely capture someone’s imagination. Just us other creators have influenced me, I want to tell stories and create moments that will stay with someone for their whole life. For me, those stories were from my childhood so I think that’s why writing for children comes easier than writing for adults.
Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom?
Monster Hunter has a lot of alliteration in it so it is great for teaching the repetition of those consonants. It is a fun read aloud with repetitious phrases that can be used for call and response. Children can also learn that it is important to clean up your messes and that you can use your imagination and have fun while you do it. I’ve also done presentations where a class of students will help me create a monster, they will tell me their ideas and then I will sketch their monster for them. The main point of the exercise is to brainstorm first, think about what your monster will look like, write those ideas down and then create it.
Question FOUR: What was your road to publication like?
The road to publication was long and windy for me. I initially was only submitting my illustration portfolio when I moved to New York in 2005 but I soon decided that if I really wanted to illustrate books, I was going to illustrate my own ideas. I had sketched out all of Monster Hunter in 2007 (I was calling it Monster Cleaner then) and finished three of the paintings (none of which would actually make it to the final book) and I made a book dummy and mailed it out EVERYWHERE. I got many rejections. Like a lot. One rejection came from Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic, however I happened to bump into an art director at Blue Sky and told her about the book. I was working at the Scholastic Store at the time with the sole purpose of bumping into editors and handing them my work. She asked me to send it to her personally, I did, and they were interested. This was very exciting I thought this was it! We went through several revisions of the book but nothing major; we changed the name from Monster Cleaner to Halloween Monster Hunter. I brought all of the sketches to fully penciled ready to paint drawings. Things were going along nicely but then I stopped getting phone calls and my emails weren’t being returned. We had not yet signed any agreements; the idea was to get the rough proposal as good looking as possible and then present to the acquisitions team. Now this was in 2008, right when the economy went down the toilet. It appeared that Scholastic, along with many other publishers, weren’t putting out any new authors it was just too risky. So just like that, Halloween Monster Hunter was dropped.
It was heartbreaking. Time went on, and I started developing a graphic novel which caught the attention of my agent Sarah Warner. We began developing my graphic novel, called Stretch and Brella, and I told her, “Hey I have this picture book dummy too.” She took a look; we undid a lot of the revisions from Blue Sky, changed the title to Monster Hunter and started getting a whole new pile of rejections. However on thanksgiving 2011 Sarah called me and let me know that Sky Pony Press was buying Monster Hunter. It was a heck of a journey but I’d finally done it. I got one in the books, and soon after Penguin picked up my graphic novel trilogy Stretch and Brella (which will be renamed) and should be out Summer 2015.
Question FIVE: What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?
Write as much as you can, the more you do the better you get and when you get those golden ideas get them out of your head and onto paper, or your computer. Get that story out as fast as possible and then worry about edits.
Show people your work. Send to editors, assistant editors, agents, post the stories you like online, go to conferences, and send things to your friends. I truly feel that getting published has little to do with talent and lots to do with hard work and with getting your work in front of the right person at the right time and that can happen in a billion different ways. I got my agent because her child goes to a summer camp in Switzerland. A camp that a friend of mine works at and this friend had some copies of my work that she left out on a table. Sarah saw the samples and that was that.
Be happy. The whole point of any creative field is that you’re doing it because it makes you happy. So make sure whenever you are writing you are in a happy place, maybe you like to write with music, or by candlelight or with a bowl of candy next to you, do what makes you happy. Be proud of your work, you’ve created something and brought it into the world and, published or not, that is truly something.