Simply 7 interview with Marcie Colleen–“Love, Triangle”

And now I get to reveal a surprise interview that I’ve been sitting on for months!  It’s one of my favorite picture books out this year (released next week).  “Love, Triangle” by Marcie Colleen is right up there with Tara Lazar’s “7 Ate 9” with amazing pun humor and classic long-lasting appeal.

20160113_D800_marciecolleen_headshot_9442_3x4Marcie Colleen is a bubbly, generous and giving soul who is also a very talented and funny writer.  I’ve known Marcie for a little while now, but this last summer in LA we were able to meet in person for the first time.  She was my cheerleader when I had to go on stage in front of 1,200 people unexpectedly at the last minute.  She was a delight when she signed my books, and she sought me out on the last day there to say goodbye and tell me something that gave me hope and almost made me cry right there on the spot.  It is also a memory I will cherish forever.  Her Super Party Bears chapter books have already won the hearts of boys and girls everywhere.  But you just wait until everyone reads this book!  You can learn more about her at her website.

FrontCoverLoveTriangle“Love, Triangle” is the story of two best friends who are torn apart by the new kid at school.  Rivalry, jealousy and puns galore are just the icing on the cake here.  It’s a literal love triangle with a triangle at the center of the problem!  Hilarious!  And even better?  It’s got illustrations by the brilliant Bob Shea.  It’s the trifecta of picture book brilliance: great writing, great illustrations, and great humor in both aspects.  You’ve got to read it to see just how great it is.

Welcome Marcie!

Me: “Love, Triangle” is incredibly funny. It is full of great puns and shape jokes. Did you write all of them? Did you choose to put the dialogue fonts in the same colors as the shapes to tell the comments apart or was that an illustration choice? Or a publisher’s choice?

 Marcie: Thank you! I gotta take credit and say all those puns and shape jokes are totally me. Although I admit that I did spend some time browsing online for geometry idioms and math humor, which I found an abundance of. Those mathematicians love their bad jokes!

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As for putting the dialogue in colors that correspond with the color of the character who is speaking, that was a design decision made in-house at HarperCollins. When I submitted the manuscript, the dialogue was written as a script, like so:

            Square: Want to share my grilled cheese?

            Circle: No, thank you. I’m suddenly craving pizza.

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Me: Speaking of the illustrations by Bob Shea, they are hilarious! Was there any collaboration on them? Or was it a surprise to see the results after the book was published?

Marcie: Bob’s illustrations are definitely on point! (See what I did there?) It was a joy to see Circle, Square, and Triangle come to life exactly as I had imagined them…but also imagined by Bob Shea. They couldn’t be more perfect in my eyes!

As originally submitted, I did include quite a few art notes in the manuscript because I wanted to keep the text spare and allow the illustrations to tell half of the story. For example:

Then bigger things.

(illo: Triangle giving Square a hang-gliding ride.)

SQUARE:        You look so small way down there, Circle!

(Illo: Triangle helping Circle study geography in the library, Square looks on)

CIRCLE:          I am going to ace this test! Triangle, you are the perfect study buddy.

SQUARE:        I thought we…never mind.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 12.15.54 PMAlthough Bob was shown the illustration notes, he was then told to do his own thing and not be tied to them. I think the result is something that is truly a collaboration we can both feel ownership of.

Me: There are plenty of books about shapes out there, but none quite this clever. So, I have to ask, where did you get this idea from?

Marcie: It’s kind of a funny story. 

I attended my first ever conference—the Winter 2012 SCBWI conference in New York City. One of the keynotes was given by bestselling author, Cassandra Clare, and titled “Love Triangles and Forbidden Love: Creating and Maintaining Romantic Tension in YA Literature.”

Much of what she had to say made me blush. I turned to picture book author, Jodi Moore, who was sitting next to me, and jokingly whispered, “Doubt I will use anything from THIS in a picture book.” Jodi responded, “You never know.”

That planted the seed. At that moment, I wondered if there was any way I could possibly write a love triangle picture book.

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I kept mulling over the idea and, a little over a year later, the premise finally came to me: A Circle and a Square are best friends until a more interesting Triangle shows up.

After lots of encouragement from friends, I sat down and wrote it. Guess you can never predict where inspiration will turn up.

Me: How did writing this picture book differ from writing your chapter books “Super Happy Party Bears”?

Marcie: First off, I had already written and sold two picture books BEFORE the contract to write the Super Happy Party Bears series. And while the picture books I had under contract were 100% my idea, the Party Bears were not.

See, I was approached by Erin Stein, publisher at Imprint/Macmillan with an idea for a chapter book series that she needed an author for. To say I was lucky is an understatement.

I was super nervous. Although I had often thought about delving into chapter books, I didn’t know the first thing about writing them. But the concept was so awesome that I couldn’t say no.

Party Bears

The pressure was great to bring this world to life, a world that I had not initially conceived. And I was also under contract to write all eight books in a year and a half. So the timeline was super tight. But at least I knew that what I wrote would definitely show up at bookstores. When writing picture books, there is no guarantee that a publisher will want to publish what I create.

Oh, and adjectives. I have trained myself to NEVER use descriptions when writing picture books. Needless to say, most of the editorial notes on the early drafts of the Party Bears say “can you describe this more? I want to know what it looks like.”

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in the writing of “Love, Triangle”?

Marcie: Through the process of writing Love, Triangle, I finally embraced my writing process and learned to lean into what works for me and not beat myself up for having a different process than others.

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To explain, the first glimmer of inspiration to write a picture book about love triangles came in early 2012, but it took a good two years before I felt like I was ready to write it. These two years were filled with brainstorming, reading, researching, sketching, and more brainstorming. And finally, after all that front work, I was ready to sit down and write a draft of Love, Triangle.

I now know that I am not a writer who gets hit with inspiration on Friday and has a sloppy draft by Monday. Even my sloppy drafts can take a while. I used to get frustrated with myself for this. I used to proclaim, “I am a slow writer.” But you know what? I have learned to appreciate the front work. I have learned not to rush out of frustration.

It’s my process. And it works!

Me: You create amazing Teachers’ Guides for books and this book has amazing potential for teachers to use. Will this book have a Teachers’ Guide? Are there any other activities that might be included with it?

Marcie: Thank you! Yes, there is a Teacher’s Guide for Love, Triangle which is downloadable from my website. It is cross-curricular, meaning it contains activities for English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies.

Me: I noticed a funny little inclusion in the illustrations at the end of this book. A new shape on the horizon (a sequel perhaps?). If you had to pick from all the shapes in the world, what would your favorite shape be?

Marcie: Wow. What a great question.

While I was writing Love, Triangle and researching shapes, I came across this shape that looked like Pac-Man. You know, the circle with a pie-slice taken out of its side? The website I found this shape on called it a omnomnomogon. Get it? “Om nom nom” as in eating? I think I would like to be an omnomnomogon just because a) I love to eat, b) I love to chat so I would need a mouth, and c) I love to make people laugh.

LOL!  That’s the perfect answer.  It not only teaches about a new shape, but it’s funny.  Perfect fit.

Dear readers, be on the lookout for this book when it comes out next week. This is one you will not want to miss.

About jenabenton

I'm an elementary school teacher, writer, illustrator and storyteller.

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