I have to admit something. I learned something new doing today’s interview. Until I read this picture book, I’d never heard about light pollution. Or rather, I knew about it, but I didn’t understand the effects it had on the world at large (other than not being able to see the stars at night when in the city). But then, I do try to learn something new every day.
Marsha Diane Arnold has visited my blogs a few times over the years. WAITING FOR SNOW is a favorite in my classroom. She also visited my blog to talk about “MAY I COME IN?” and “MINE. YOURS.” She is an award-winning children’s author with over one million books sold. Some of her books’ honors include Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book Awards, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. You can learn more about her at her website.
“Lights Out” is a story of a few lost animals in search of a place where they can thrive. They roam from ecosystem to ecosystem, fleeing urban invasion while looking for home. The plot is incredibly clever with a subtle message that avoids being didactic. Incredible! AND there’s an Educator’s guide! JUST for you readers, you can download the whole kid here OR view a menu of individual downloads here.
Welcome back Marsha and thank you for those goodies!
Me: The topic of your story is one I haven’t seen any picture books talking about before now: light pollution. Why do you think that is? Is this an important topic for you?
Marsha: When I mention light pollution to others, their reaction often surprises me. They look at me questioningly or say, “What kind of pollution?” Most have never heard of the problem or the disastrous effect it has on animals and ourselves. Even though writers are often the people who bring obscure but important topics to the public, I haven’t seen any picture books on the topic either. The topic doesn’t seem to have been brought into the mainstream.
A children’s picture book on light pollution was a challenge for me. I wanted my readers to understand the dangers of light pollution and the importance of darkness, but I also wanted them to be enchanted by the story and to have a strong connection with my characters. That’s why I chose animal characters that are affected by light pollution. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Fox, Firefly, Bird, Bear, Frog, and Turtle Hatchlings?
I am indeed passionate about this topic and my upcoming book Lights Out. I think it’s especially important because light pollution is one type of pollution we can easily do something about. There are so many things that can be done to help.
Me: The main character of fox really leads the reader on a journey through this story. Was the fox always part of the story? When did the fox become the main character?
Marsha: I don’t recall exactly when Fox came into my story. (I started writing the story in 2014, so it’s been awhile.) Originally, I used names like Ida (International Dark Sky Association) and Bortle (a scale that measures the night sky’s brightness). I thought that was very clever, but I couldn’t win any editor over to my way of thinking.
At one point, Firefly was the main character. It was probably about half way through drafts that I chose Fox as the leader of the journey.
Me: This picture book brilliantly describes some of the problems of light pollution through its characters and their interactions with the world around them (instead of being preachy or didactic). Did you struggle to write this one? How many revisions did this story undergo?
Marsha: Thank you, Jena. I’m so glad you feel that way.
For the longest time, I wasn’t sure of the best way to develop this story. It went through so many versions! My first title was Finding the Light, then Searching for the Light, then Searching for the Dark, and finally Lights Out! Yes, originally there was an exclamation point at the end. I kept getting stuck so I would put the story away, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. But I always came back to it because I loved the idea of animals searching for the true Darkness of Night.
Me: This is another one of your brief texts, but it is really poetic. Did you intend for it to read like a poem? Or did that evolve over time?
Marsha: My first drafts were narrative, but there were always poetic stanzas too. Looking back at early drafts, I usually had a poetic rhythm happening. I’ve been told my writing is usually lyrical.
Me: The illustrations in this book by Susan Reagan are so wonderfully done with such a limited palette. Were there any illustrating surprises for you? What is your favorite illustration?
Marsha:The only surprises were delightful surprises. I was a bit concerned when I sold the manuscript because I knew how challenging the play of light and dark would be. The Creative Company is known for beautiful books and I put my trust in them.
Susan was the perfect choice. When I first saw her sketches, they took my breath away. Brilliantly splendid. I love so many of Susan’s illustrations. The cover is lovely, but my favorite is the breathtaking image near the end, of the animals finding the beautiful natural light in the midst of darkness.
I have two illustrations to share with you and your audience and I don’t think they’ve ever been shown to the public before. These were sketches Susan made for Lights Out that did not make it into the book. I love these too!
Me: Oh wow! Thank you for sharing those with us! They are beautiful. This is the fourth time you’ve visited my blog. You have numerous picture books published now. Yet I’ve still seen you post on social media a few times over the years about being rejected. There seems to be a myth among new writers that once you reach a certain point in your career, you’ll never be rejected again. Can you talk about rejection? Do you still get them? How do you handle them?
Marsha: First of all, thank you for having me back to your blog – four times! I always feel welcome and have a good time answering your questions.
I am rejected numerous times each month, sometimes numerous times each week! My agent shares each rejection with me – bittersweet. I have two manuscripts out now that I particularly love. They have received over ten rejections each. I always feel a little pang, a bit of disappointment with each rejection. All any writer can do is to keep writing and keep submitting their best work.
I have a big slide I share with students when I visit schools. It has 13 big “noes” and one tiny “yes.” They represent the 13 rejections I received for my first book, Heart of a Tiger, and the one “yes” that led to the story being published and winning multiple awards. I tell the students they only need one “yes” to be on the way to where they want to be. Some of them take this to heart, duplicating the slide in their notebooks.
Me: I love that. Do you have any future books or projects that we can look forward to?
Marsha: I’m very excited about my next book, which has an environmental theme, but I can’t share the title or details yet. It hasn’t even been announced in Publisher’s Weekly!
Regarding projects, I’ve found it challenging to write during the current crises, but I’ve recently started entering my office again. I have four stories that I’m excited to finish, from the super silly to the serious.
But right now, my main focus is to help launch Lights Out into the world. Members of the International Dark Sky Association and other groups have reached out and I’m hoping we can collaborate on projects that will make people aware of what they can do to help bring natural light back to the night.
Thank you for visiting my blog again Marsha. Dear readers, not only will you (and little ones) learn about light pollution through this story, but you will enjoy the journey that Fox and his friends make. And I think that you too will find the beauty tucked away in each of the illustrations as breathtaking as I did. This is not a book to be missed.