Jaime Zollars’ Author-Illustrator Debut THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS: Storystorm Success Story (plus a giveaway)
I am thrilled to share my Storystorm success story here!
For those who don’t know me, my name is Jaime Zollars. I’m an illustrator who has been drawing pictures for young readers since 2003. I have illustrated many books for other authors, most notably, Kate Milford’s wonderful GREENGLASS HOUSE series and Claire Legrand’s enchanting FOXHEART.
After years of illustrating the writings of others, my first solo picture book, THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 15, 2020! This is very exciting to me because I told myself way back in 2003 that I was going to make my own book, and it took (WAY) longer than expected to make that happen.
WHY did it take so long to happen? Well, I keep an optimistic list of tasks for myself daily and only a fraction of them get done. Those remaining list items are carried over to the next day, and this series of events repeats daily. For 15 years. Turns out that nothing that isn’t at the very pressing top of my list will ever get done, unless: it is suddenly on fire, is very enjoyable, only takes a few minutes, or is decidedly easy. Writing a picture book (for me, at least) is not particularly enjoyable, takes more than a few minutes, and is not easy. Writing is an unpredictable creative process that takes energy and time and focus. Writing a picture book is simply a list item doesn’t get neatly checked off.
Enter the challenge to come up with one idea for a picture book a day. This is a task that is decidedly checkmark-able.
I resolved to give PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now Storystorm) a whirl back in 2014 with a friend and fellow-illustrator, Wilson Swain. (He is talented and you should check out his work at wilsonswain.com.) We kept each other accountable by checking in weekly and sharing our ideas. NOW, some of these ideas were not good. Truly, 90 percent of these ideas were terrible. BUT occasionally, something would trigger more thought. One of my ideas in particular, was just a title. “The Truth About Dragons” sat on my list for some time. It was all I could come up with on that particular day when I had to come up with something. But this title intrigued me enough to consider it well after the month was through.
About a year later, I was driving alone in my car and thinking about this title again. I asked myself pointedly: “What IS the truth about dragons?” (I often talk to myself when my kids are not in the car.) My brain struggled as usual with this query, but then surprised me by proclaiming that dragons LOVE mint chocolate chip ice cream, they are actually very afraid of kittens, AND they love their little sisters even if they pretend that they don’t. None of these examples actually made it into the book, but the concept stuck. Dragons are just like us! Over the next few days, this idea grew into the concept that sometimes things look different when we’re afraid, and if we can see past our fears, perhaps we’ll uncover the truth. I thought about how the illustrations could take the lead in this title and invite readers to figure out the visual puzzle for themselves (the dragons turn to kids one-by-one as the protagonist learns more about them). And THAT was when the task of making my own book went from just another checklist item that would be indefinitely carried over, to a checklist item on fire.
The rest of my PiBoIdMo ideas also helped me to feel confident soliciting an agent. I had several kernels of ideas ready to share as soon as I had agent interest, and I signed with the infectiously enthusiastic Stephen Barr at Writer’s House in 2015. He looked over my book ideas and The Truth About Dragons was his pick as well. He was invaluable as we started working with this story in the background of my other deadlines and sold the book at auction to the amazing Deirdre Jones at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2017!
I’m honestly not sure I would have ever found the idea for this first solo book if it were not for Storystorm. I think we are mistaken if we assume (as I once did) that good ideas will come to us without some forced consideration. Waiting for inspiration to visit is a nice thought, but now I’m pretty sure that we can (and should) actively cultivate it. Storystorm, for me, was a low-pressure invitation to see things a little bit differently—if just for a month. Having to write something down, anything down, was a gift that trained my mind to actively pursue story alongside going about my days.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS will be published on September 15, 2020. Kirkus even gave it a star (!) and calls it “A beautifully rendered, comforting, gentle lesson in overcoming fears.” I hope that it finds its way to the right parents, teachers, librarians, and readers as we all face a little bit of the unknown this fall.
Blog readers, Little Brown is giving away a copy of THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS!
Leave one comment to enter.
A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.
You can see more of Jaime’s art at jaimezollars.com, learn more about her art and writing process by following her on Instagram @jaimezollarsart, and preorder the Truth About Dragons here: https://bookshop.org/books/the-truth-about-dragons/9780316481489. Because there is just no way to do traditional book events at this time, send me a copy of a pre-order receipt from anywhere books are sold, along with your address, and I’ll even send you a signed mini-print to celebrate!
*Extra note for those interested: I also have a curriculum guide for this book for those who can use it—including parents who are doing some of the teaching in these strange times. I’m happy to send that out to anyone who e-mails me at jaime @ jaimezollars.com.
Source: Writing Competition