Today’s Simply 7 is with another picture book debut by an author-illustrator.
I love meeting teacher-writers. Nicholas Solis has been writing all of his life. He’s a member of SCBWI and 12×12 and a fellow at the writing barn. Nick is also an award winning elementary teacher. He has traveled the world and taught students in Tanzania, India, and Morocco. When he’s not traveling, he enjoys spending time with his wife, their dog, and his brand new baby boy in Austin, Texas. You can learn more about him at his website.
“The Staring Contest” is a unique book. It’s a game that plays with the reader and writer relationship. It’s a game that has fun with the rules. It’s the game the title and cover art work imply: a staring contest. It reminds me ever so slightly of “The Book with No Pictures.” This is not your usual picture book. It gleefully breaks all of the rules and invites kids to play along.
Me: “The Staring Contest” is your picture book author/illustrator debut. That’s exciting! What draws you to picture books?
Nick: I’ve been an elementary teacher for 21 years, so I’ve seen my fair share of picture books. I think I love them for their accessibility. Watching students of all ages drawn to a good picture book is the highlight of my day. Seeing teachers find the perfect book to use in order to introduce a lesson and make a stronger connection to the content is amazing. And now as a new father, getting to read and enjoy books with my son is fantastic. A good picture book will capture anyone’s attention and imagination no matter what their age. And that’s why I love them.
Me: I love that answer. This book is based on a popular game I played as a child (and I assume children today still play). It also reminds me ever so slightly of “The Book with No Pictures” by B.J. Novak. What gave you the idea?
Nick: I’m extremely flattered that you referenced B.J. Novak’s book. I still recommend The Book with No Pictures to everyone I know! I just loved the way he took something so simple, a book with no pictures, and made it a metafiction masterpiece. I’ve always been drawn to figuring out ways to have the reader interact with the physical book. I like to try writing a bunch of different types of stories, so I tend to go through phases. One of the phases was a metafiction phase and The Staring Contest was born! I wanted a book that felt like a competitor, and one the reader would like to beat. Can I tell you a tiny secret too? The book helps with fluency, shhhh. It’s designed to see if you can make it through the whole book without blinking. The more you read it, the faster you get!
Me: Great secret! Which comes first for you: writing or illustrating? Do you prefer one over the other?
Nick: This question makes me laugh, because I never planned on the publishers using my illustrations. I love to draw, but I don’t think I am very good at it. I just made a bunch of eyeballs and eyebrows for the mock up so that the book would make more sense when on submission. Mara Conlon, at Peter Pauper Press, liked the simple circles and BOOM! Now I am an illustrator!
But to answer your question, writing is my first love. I’ve been writing books and poems ever since I was a kid.
Me: LOL! Well, that’s an interesting path to the illustrator journey. What does your writing and/or illustrating process look like?
Nick: I wish it was more consistent, but it isn’t. I find that I work better when surrounded by writers and under a deadline, whether from an editor or my critique group. I have taken a lot of writing classes at The Writing Barn in Austin, TX. So many that they actually made me a writing fellow. Most of my stories come from those classes or weekend intensives.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Nick: Learn the writing craft, surround yourself with great writers, join a critique group, and of course write as much as possible! I remember thinking that I knew everything about writing a children’s book. Then I took one class and realized I knew absolutely nothing about writing a children’s book. It’s been a long journey, and I still have a ways to go, but I keep writing. Eventually I joined a critique group and their guidance has really helped me refine a lot of my work. Oh, and your first draft will always be messy.
Me: Any other projects we can look forward to from you in the future?
Nick: Yes! I have two books coming out in 2021. The Color Collector with Sleeping Bear Press and Bordertown with Nancy Paulsen Books. I’m so excited for the world to see these books and their amazing illustrators!
Me: Congrats! I understand you were once on “Hollywood Game Night.” How did that come to pass? Can you share that story?
Nick: My wife and I are huge fans of the show! I remember watching it one night and then googling, “how do you get on Hollywood Game Night?” There was an application process and a million phone and Zoom interviews, but I ultimately made it on! They just wanted someone who was energetic and quick on their feet, so I just pretended like I was teaching a lesson to my 4th grade students. Just be goofy and pretend that there aren’t any adults watching you. Highlights: Jane Lynch, the host, is super sweet even when she isn’t on camera and Eva Longoria, my teammate, was so competitive. I think she wanted to win even more than I did!
LOL! That sounds like fun. Thank you for visiting my blog Nick. Dear readers, this is a fun book (with a secret fluency boost–shh, don’t tell!). I’m betting this is one that kids will want to read and re-read frequently.