It’s another Simply 7 with Diana Murray on her latest book birthday!
Diana Murray is an incredibly prolific writer of rhyming picture books. I’m always baffled at how easy she makes this look (and it’s NOT easy!). She has visited my blog several times already. You can learn more about her at her website or any of her previous blog visits to my site.
Her latest picture book (released today!) is “Goodnight, Veggies” and is illustrated by Zachariah OHora. It’s another rhyming text that surprises and yet another bedtime story with an incredibly creative twist that I’m surprised no one thought of before. Plus there’s a worm as cute as Richard Scarry’s Lowly (who was a favorite of mine when I was younger–I loved looking for him in every picture in Scarry’s work). This is a win-win combination all around.
Welcome back Diana!
Me: “Goodnight, Veggies” is another brilliant bedtime picture book! What inspired the idea of using veggies for this genre?
Diana: Thank you! I set out to write a bedtime book that was simple and a bit quirky. I wrote a long list of subjects (“Goodnight, Dinosaurs”, “Goodnight, Pirates”, etc.), most of which sounded like they had already been done before. When I got to “Goodnight, Veggies”, I thought it sounded unique and it gave me a chuckle. I also had a short poem about a vegetable garden that I really liked and that fed into the inspiration.
Me: Seriously, I can’t believe no one has ever thought of it before! As this is the second bedtime book you’ve had published within a few months of each other, I also have to ask: is bedtime important to you? Is this a favorite genre? What is the draw for you to bedtime stories?
Diana: I do love bedtime stories and I have several others on the way. When you write a bedtime story, you have a clear starting point and an ultimate goal, because everything must lead to going to sleep. I like to include some gentle humor and/or tension while making the ending soothing. I think the bedtime story routine is universal and so special and cozy. That was always my favorite time to read with my kids, snuggled up together. It’s a moment of deep bonding.
Me: The word count seems incredibly small for “Goodnight, Veggies” (in a good way—I’m impressed!). Was this originally a poem? What is the word count total?
Diana: It is! I think it’s the shortest text of all my books. It’s about 125 words. No, it didn’t start out as a poem. It was partially inspired by a poem, but this text is totally different. When writing a picture book, I like to give a lot of thought to page turns, and that’s not the case with poems.
Me: I know I say this regularly, but once again your rhyme blows me away. There are wonderful surprises in the text here too, including puns! Veggie puns! I love it. So I have to ask, how do you do that? Like one of my favorite bits: “Cuddly cauliflowers./ Droopy pods of peas./Rhubarbs reading stories/to worn-out broccolis.” How did you get peas and broccolis to rhyme AND scan so well? Was this hard work? Or was it a gift from the muse at this point for you?
Diana: Haha! Thank you. I typically write the first line the way I want it, then think about possible end rhymes, and whether I can write a matching second line that ends with any of those rhymes AND sounds natural. I wouldn’t say that specific line was hard to write. But throughout, probably the hardest thing is to make sure the text sounds natural without being boring or too expected. I did wonder for a moment whether the thought of rhubarbs reading books was too surreal. But I ultimately decided it added a bit of whimsy and humor. If I can surprise myself or make myself chuckle a bit, I usually find that means it’s a good idea. I also wondered about the plural of “broccoli”, and again, after doing a little googling and showing crit partners, I decided it was acceptable. Certainly, A LOT of thought goes into every single line. I may go through 50 versions of a single line before deciding what I like best.
Me: You’ve had the chance to work with some amazing picture book illustrators. Zachariah OHora was the perfect choice for this book (in my opinion). Was he someone you had in mind for this project? Do you ever suggest illustrators for your work when you have a manuscript accepted by a publisher?
Diana: I’m glad you asked! As a matter of fact, I immediately thought of Zach for this project. He is one of my favorite illustrators, first of all. And for this project, I felt I wanted it to look cool, trendy, whimsical, humorous, modern, crisp, and very bold. My wonderful editor, Kate O’Sullivan, asked me if I had suggestions for an illustrator, and I said that I would love to see “someone like Zachariah OHora” illustrate. Amazingly, it all came together in the end. I was so excited when I found out he agreed to take the project on! I couldn’t believe it.
Me: Wow! That’s awesome! And yet again, here is another perfect example of the illustrator providing a surprise that wasn’t in the text: that cute worm character! Was that something you had envisioned? Or was it something Zachariah came up with on his own?
Diana: That was all Zach! The text is very simple and I knew from the start that the illustrator would have to do a lot to bring it to life. When my editor showed him the manuscript, he had the idea of a worm jumping out of the robins’ nest and tunneling around the veggies (with tunnels that kids could trace with their fingers). He also sketched that hip worm character early on. I thought it was awesome! He took everything to the next level. He nailed it.
Me: He absolutely did! Did you have a farm at one point? Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me about that. Have you grown veggies before yourself? What is your favorite veggie?
Diana: I never had a farm but I do live right next to one and we visited there often when my kids were young. When I was little, I lived in a building in the city. I tried planting popcorn kernels on the lawn once. I watered them daily and could swear they started growing into tiny stalks, but in hindsight, I doubt it. We also had a pot of tomatoes on our balcony. Freshly picked tomatoes have the most amazing smell! And picking your own vegetables makes them taste so much better. I’ve taken my kids to farms to pick their own cucumbers and it was such a thrill for them. It makes one feel connected to nature in a unique, satisfying way.
Ahh, so true. My hubby is looking forward to our first garden this summer. I can’t wait to see what he does with it. Thank you for visiting my blog again Diana.
Dear readers, this is a book you won’t want to miss. Track down a copy of “Goodnight, Veggies” and give it a read. I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me!