Susan Stevens Crummel‘s books with her most frequent collaborator, author/illustrator (and sister!) Janet Stevens, include Help Me, Mr. Mutt!, one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Children’s Books of 2008 and winner of the 2010 Texas Bluebonnet Award and the 2010 Florida Children’s Book Award, The Great Fuzz Frenzy, winner of the Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award and 10 state book awards, Cook-a-Doodle-Doo!, winner of the 2001 Texas Bluebonnet Award, and And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, winner of the 2004 California Young Reader Medal. Their newest book, The Little Red Pen, was inspired by their longtime editor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Editorial Director Jeannette Larson. The Editor is honored to have assisted in the editing of several of those books. Unlike Jeannette, however, The Editor did not get a really cool nickname. (A-hem, Susie.)
*After Susan’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.
When you write a new picture book manuscript, how many drafts does it typically take before you’ll show it to an editor?
We write and rewrite for several months. I’m not sure of the number of drafts–maybe 20?
How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?
More than before.
You sometimes collaborate with your sister, illustrator Janet Stevens. How does that collaboration work?
We start with an idea, usually Janet’s idea, we talk about it, then she starts to draw and I start to write. Janet e-mails me her sketches and I e-mail her a draft of the story. Janet prints out my e-mail, writes all over it, and faxes it back to me. I incorporate her handwritten notes, craft the next draft, and e-mail it back to her. She prints it out, writes all over it, and faxes it back to me, and so on.
Many phone calls, faxes, and e-mails later, we share the manuscript and storyboard with Jeannette Larson. She gets out her little red pen (the title of our latest book, by the way) and sticky notes and goes to work! Many conference calls, faxes, and e-mails later, the manuscript is set (we think) and Janet creates a dummy. As the art and the story begin to come together, the manuscript changes again. We feel that this is what makes our collaboration successful–it’s an organic process where the story and art evolve together, meshing to create a more cohesive product.
I can think of only positives with regard to our collaboration. The phrase “two heads are better than one” seems cliche, but it’s true. And we are a “fit” because we share the same sense of humor! Yes, we bug each other sometimes–we’re very different. I’m organized, detail oriented, neat, and a little INSIDE THE BOX. She is creative, artistic, messy, and totally OUTSIDE THE BOX. I call her Miss Messy and she calls me Miss Prissy Pants. But it’s the balance of these two opposites that makes it work. Plug in Jeannette as the referee, and VOILA! The perfect collaboration.
Here is a funny recipe for collaboration that I wrote several years ago:
Recipe for Collaborating
Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
1 older sister, well-seasoned
1 much, much younger sister (wash thoroughly to remove paint)
1 far-fetched idea
Numerous communication devices – fax machines, cell phones, regular phones, computers with Internet access
1 editor: Jeannette – the Little Red Pen
(1) Put far-fetched idea in same container with two sisters. Set in warm place to rise (like Hawaii).
(2) Separate sisters. May need crowbar.
(3) Use communication devices to link. Allow creative juices to flow back and forth until mixture begins to bubble. Turn up the heat until it is well done.
(4) Sprinkle with laughter.
(5) Add corn.
(6) Send mixture to Jeannette.
(7) Take out corn.
(8) Repeat steps 3 – 7 until Jeannette is exhausted or the deadline passes, whichever comes first.
Do you use Janet or other critique partners for the books you write solo?
I use Janet and Dorothy Donohue, my other illustrator.
Do you share your manuscripts with kids to test them out?
Yes, when possible.
What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?
I wrote Plaidypus Lost for Holiday House and it was completely in rhyme. After many revisions I met with Regina in New York, our editor at the time. She said, “Take it out of rhyme and no sappy ending.” I nearly fainted. The entire project changed from that point on.
How do you know you’ve got the final draft?
When the deadline arrives. We still try to change things after that . . . sometimes we can, sometime we can’t.
The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:
- Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
- The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
- Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 29, 2013, PST.
- Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 30, 2013, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.
One entry – SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. DO NOT send your manuscript or any portion of it. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.) *If you do not want your title announced, please use an alternate working title.*
Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.
Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.
Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.
And we’ve got a winner for yesterday’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway: Christine Kohler, with her manuscript Babel/Babble. Look for my email, Christine.
Like your Recipe for Collaborating!
Regina’s request for flipping Plaidypus Lost to a not so sappy ending was a bit of a surprise But, Voila! a wonderful story!
Thanks for sharing your process.
An important item to take away from Susan’s experience with Plaidypus Lost–and similar experiences that the other authors of Revision Week have recounted–is that we need to be open to Thinking Big with our revisions. It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned about revising passages and words, but sometimes we need to step back and realize that if we changed Big Picture items like entire scenes or even entire plotlines or characters (remember that Matthew J. Kirby changed a character’s gender several drafts into The Lost Kingdom), the book would break out to a whole new level of excellence.
Ooh! I’ve been waiting ALL week to read this interview and it was even more fun and wonderful than I had hoped.
Thank you Dear Editor, Susan and Janet!
I wonder how important it is to let the recipe rise in Hawaii. I have an upcoming trip to a warm place, and I think I’ll pack a few ideas in my carry-on (they are far too important for checked luggage) to see what happens.
Love the recipe!
Good luck with your “luggage,” Lauri.
“I call her Miss Messy and she calls me Miss Prissy Pants.” ROFL! Thanks for the awesome interview, Susan! 🙂
This is hysterical! Almost makes me want to collaborate with my sister, who’d be Miss Prissy Pants in our duo.
Thanks for yet another enlightening and enjoyable insight into the creative process.
How wonderful it must be to create picture books with your sister-together. :0)
Glad to hear you’re all laughing as much as I was when I read Susan’s answers. The sisters’ “recipe” is as fascinating to see play out as it is to read about. Big thanks to Susan for giving us a glimpse inside the action.
Collaboration recipe was fun to read. Thanks for sharing!
Wow! This post is awesome! I love the idea of sisters working together. Hm. I have a younger sister who like to illustrate. I’m going to try this! Thanks so much for sharing:)
I LOVE THAT RECIPE! (And somehow I feel entirely cheated that I only had older brothers, and that they liked chemistry, computer science, and other stuff.) I’m the younger sister who needs to be washed thoroughly to remove paint, though. Lol. (You can go to my blog if you don’t believe me.)
What a great recipe. I think it’s kind of incredible that two sisters can actually work productively together. It five minutes it’s end in fighting if it was my family….
I love the recipe! Thanks for the interview.
The “Recipe for Collaboration” cracked me up! A similar recipe for me and my sister would actually end up with a real recipe (i.e. food involved). We once made the most beautiful strawberry shortcake together. Alas, she’s not an illustrator or writer so we won’t be as famous as Susan and Janet. 😉